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Many people were out along Water Street on Sunday, but few were seen wearing a mask. (Photo intentionally blurred.)
Many people were out along Water Street on Sunday, but few were seen wearing a mask. (Photo intentionally blurred.)

Is the Village of Lewiston more at risk for COVID-19 outbreak now that spring has sprung?

by jmaloni

UPDATED MAY 7

Wed, May 6th 2020 12:55 pm

People flock to business district over weekend, many not wearing a mask

By Joshua Maloni

GM/Managing Editor

On Sunday afternoon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo cautioned New Yorkers about abandoning safety practices put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“My gut says the weather is going to warm. People are bored. People want this over. They see the numbers going down; they can take false comfort. ‘Oh, it's going down. That means it's over.’ No, no,” he said. “We never said it was over. We said the numbers are going down … (but) you can see that virus pick up dramatically.”

At the same time Cuomo was speaking, dozens of people were out and about in the Village of Lewiston enjoying the summer-like weather. They were walking down Center Street, eating on picnic tables and sitting on benches, looking at monuments, licking ice cream in Academy Park, and sprawled out on Water Street, looking out on the river.

Many of those people were not wearing a mask or cloth face covering.

“How people cannot wear masks, that, to me, is … disrespectful. It's disrespectful,” Cuomo said. “It's disrespectful to the nurses, the doctors, the people who have been frontline workers, the transit workers. You wear the mask, not for yourself; you wear the mask for me. It's a sign of respect to other people.

“And you make me sick (with the coronavirus) – that's disrespectful. I have to go into the hospital. I have to call an ambulance. That's an ambulance driver. I have to go into an emergency room; that's a nurse, that's a doctor who has to put on PPE that somebody has to buy and pay for. They have to risk being exposed to the virus, because you wouldn't wear a mask. Because you wouldn't wear a mask?

“You put so many people at risk, because you didn't want to wear a mask. I think that's disrespectful by you. It’s disrespectful of your relationship and obligation to one another.”

Cuomo has said over the past few weeks that reopening this state – taking New York off the “PAUSE” he placed it on to control the outbreak – is akin to releasing pressure in a valve. If it is done too fast, the pipe will burst – or, in this case, if he reopens certain popular destinations while others remain closed, an influx of people will descend on that location, potentially bringing the coronavirus with them.

Though the Village of Lewiston, officially, has had less than 10 positive COVID-19 cases, it’s safe to say not everyone visiting the business district this past weekend was a resident.

Groups of people gathered together – some were families whose members are living together in quarantine. Though they pose no additional risk to themselves by assembling in public, Cuomo said they can still infect other people.

Transference to Inanimate Objects

“Social distancing” and “physical distancing” are terms everyone has heard on loop for almost two months. This practice has been called the best way to avoid infecting another person (or getting infected, for that matter).

But what is the risk of spreading coronavirus to another person by means of an inanimate object?

“What happens to you is dependent on what I do, and how I act,” Cuomo said. “I don't wear a mask. I sneeze on a park bench, you walk up two minutes later and sit down on the park bench – oh, by the way, you walk up a half an hour later, maybe, and sit on the park bench; and you put your hand down, and then you wipe your face. Now you have a problem – because of me. That's why the mask wearing (matters).”

Niagara Frontier Publications asked Niagara County Public Health Director Daniel Stapleton about transference.

“It depends on what the inanimate object is. That's the first thing,” he said Monday. “So, if it's a hard surface – and I'm not an expert on this, on virology, but I believe that, a hard surface, it’s going to stay on there, inside a house with perfect conditions, for let's say as much as 72 hours; 48 to 72 hours.

“But when you go outside, the virulence of the virus is much, much less. And there has been anecdotal evidence to suggest that the half-life of this virus is cut down to only a few minutes when it's in direct sunlight.

“So, it depends on where it is: If it's in a controlled environment inside on a hard object, it might be as much as 48-72 hours; but if it's outside, it might be as little as a few minutes. It really depends on the conditions you're dealing with, on how long the virus will remain active and pose a danger. But typically, outside is much, much less. And in direct sunlight, like I said, anecdotally, it's showing that the half-life is much, much shorter.”

Still, he said that doesn't mean masks are optional.

“I went for a walk yesterday along the canal on a walking path, my wife and I. We did not have masks on. But I had a mask in my pocket,” Stapleton said. “If I'm going to be near a group – we weren't – and most people are smart enough now – but somebody’s riding a bike, you're not gonna be wearing a mask. For one thing, it’s hard to breathe. But if you're walking, just two people – a member of your family, then I don't see the need for a mask.

“But, but, you should have a mask handy. And also, if you're going to be closer than six feet with people, you should be wearing a mask. So, it depends on the environment that you're in, depends on the activity you're doing.

“Most people are able to tell the distance of six foot. And, if you're outside, breeze blowing and you're not in a large crowd, then I think the risk is much, much less. But if you're in a crowded area, you're on the beach, and there's 20 people around, and they're not using physical distancing, then that's when you're less protected.

“So, most of it's common sense. You’re closer than six feet, then you should be wearing a mask. And most people have access to masks and have them. I think it's all using common sense of putting the mask on when you're closer to six feet with somebody that you don't necessarily know. A family member you share a home with, they’re not expected to wear a mask.”

What Can Be Done?

Seeing someone waiting outside for a food order, in a line with other people, without a mask, raises the question as to whether business owners should insist customers are covered.

“Businesses can decide who they're going to serve. It's completely their choice. But it's not difficult to wear a mask when you're waiting in line for food. It's not difficult to make sure you have six feet between you and another person,” Stapleton said. If going inside, He noted, “You wear your mask, because you'll be closer; because you're paying somebody.”

He explained, “We pick up food. A person at the restaurant brings it out your door and puts it in your back seat. I had a mask on. I don't want to put them at risk. They had a mask on, too.

“I think a lot of it is people know what the rules are – it's not a big shock to them – and businesses make the decision. I do not tell businesses what they need to do. I tell businesses these are the precautions you need to take. Businesses should worry about protecting their customers because, if they don't, they won't have those customers for long. So, they use common sense, and they want to protect themselves, their staff, as well as their customers.”

Lewiston Tops supermarket owner Anthony DiMino said, “We've had some complaints that customers are coming in without a mask.

“It's a slippery slope. We have signs up and stating that we should have masks on; but it's becoming more and more of a problem if someone comes without a mask.”

DiMino said it’s hard to deny someone the right to purchase food.

“We've asked people to leave if they do not have a mask. We started that yesterday. … The news today, there's two or three states that are now stating that they don't need to put on masks. So, it's a slippery slope. I mean, if you can't breathe and you can't wear a mask, are you going to tell that person they can't shop – if they actually need food? I don't know.

“So, right now, we're asking people to have a mask on.”

He explained, “We really don't have the personnel to have someone out like they do at Home Depot. Bring in one person at a time and, if they don't have a mask, they’re turned away. We just don't have enough help to do that. We're short on help, as it is.

“If we see somebody, we tell them, ‘You need to put a mask on.’ And we're asking them to leave. But that's really not what we should be doing.”

New York executive order 202.16 “directs employers to provide essential workers with masks free of charge to wear when interacting with the public.”

These signs are posted on the doors at Tops.

Enforcement Options

Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce President Jennifer Pauly said, “Because (Sunday) was a beautiful day, we probably received 15 private messages on all of our social media regarding people out walking, and people upset about people not wearing masks.”

Village of Lewiston Mayor Anne Welch said, “I got calls on (Sunday’s gatherings), too, because people were down at the waterfront without masks on. I went down and they seemed to be pretty much social distancing. But people were upset that they were out. Also through Artpark (State Park), people were not wearing masks.

“I get it, that when they're out and they're just with their family, I guess that they don't need to wear a mask – and for a beautiful day, you really don't want to be breathing through a mask.

“I don't know how to police it. I mean, there's just so many people. When they go into stores, they're wearing masks, but outside they're not.”

Cuomo explained, “I've said to all the local government heads, enforce it. Enforce it. Because it's not only wrong, it’s a public health risk. It really is such a little thing to ask of people at a time when people are doing so much.”

He reiterated the point Monday.

“Local governments have the ability to enforce and to penalize – that's up to local governments. But do I think local government should be enforcing it, and should there be sanctions? Yes. Yes. Because it is a public health emergency,” he said. “You know, this is not just, ‘Do me a favor.’ This is a public health emergency.

“And it's a statewide order that I put in place, that I'm proud of, and local governments have the responsibility to enforce it. And part of their right, their legal right, is they can have a penalty or a sanction that they impose. So, Rochester can have one penalty – it can be appropriate to the community. New York City's in a different situation. But yeah, I think local government should enforce it, and I think there should be a penalty – because you could literally kill someone. You could literally kill someone because you didn't want to wear a mask. I mean, how cruel and irresponsible would that be?”

Lewiston Police Department Chief Frank Previte said his officers cannot practically monitor everyone outside walking, biking and talking with another person, determining who is six feet apart, or who’s family, and why a person is or isn’t wearing a mask.

However, “If we get a complaint, or if we come across something of that nature, then obviously we deal with that, as it comes in,” he said.

The state hotline created to report “PAUSE” violations reroutes calls to local law enforcement – like the LPD.

“That's how they set it up throughout the state, where anybody who calls ‘PAUSE’ it gets filtered by the state to whatever county, and then the county filters it to whatever law enforcement agency is in that county, if it's covered,” Previte said. “So, for anything for the Town of Lewiston, that people call ‘PAUSE,’ it gets filtered to the town police department.”

The phone number is 1-833-789-0470.

Previte said his department received a few calls upon the initial issuance of the “PAUSE” order, but, “I'd say at least it's been a week or week-and-a-half since we've gotten anything regarding that.”

Stapleton said, “If people see flagrant violations of the physical distancing, they should be calling the ‘PAUSE’ line. The ‘PAUSE’ line, the purpose of that is to notify if people are not following the rules.

“Once again, it's based a lot on volume. I walked along the canal. And along that canal, there might have been 100 people over the hour I walked. But as long as you practice social distancing, physical distancing, as long as you wear a mask when people are close, then I think those are the simple things I talk about: The common-sense approaches.

“The ‘PAUSE’ hotline is for people who are flagrantly violating it. It's not for somebody who's having mulch put down on their driveway or on their lawn. It's for real concerns that people have about violations of the physical distancing rules.”

Today’s Actions Lead to Tomorrow’s Results

From what Previte has seen personally, “It seems that, for the most part, that what I observe is that most people are being compliant. I'd say it's an exception that people are not. We haven't had a lot of instances that we're made aware or that I've witnessed, personally.

“There are some people that it doesn't matter – they're gonna do whatever they want. They're inconsiderate of whatever's happening. That’s why we get people that we arrest and people that speed, because there's people it doesn't matter what law you make – they don't care. They will do what they want anyway. But I'll say that it has been a very low number.”

At the Village Board meeting, Welch said, “I realize our village is very walkable, and we have a beautiful village and waterfront and parks. The weather is getting nicer, and we have a lot of people out there. (Previte) has agreed to put his mobile sign up on Center Street to remind people to please practice social distancing and wear masks, when necessary.”

She later added, “I’m anxious to open up, but I don’t want to do it too soon. We want people to be safe.

“We have to open as a region because, if we don't, if we open before somebody else, everybody will come here – and that’s not what we want to do.”

Speaking of the coronavirus curve, Cuomo said, “ ‘It is not going down.’ It's not, ‘it is going down.’ There's no ‘it.’ We are bringing it down. That number was going (up). The only reason the number’s (dropping) is because New Yorkers grabbed that projection curve with two hands and pulled it down. And that's why it went (down).

“You go back to your old behavior, that number goes right back up. And it's warm, and you want to get out of the house, and everybody's antsy, and ‘I haven't gotten a paycheck,’ and ‘I'm worried about my job.’ I know – but big caution sign to me: Let's watch the numbers; numbers are going down. But we are a very dense environment. We've had more cases. We almost overwhelmed the whole health care system. So, caution moving forward.”

Wear a Mask to Show Support to First Responders

Stapleton said, “Our nurses, they're working unbelievably hard. … But I also have other staff, the public health department staff, regardless of the role they are serving, they fit a role that helps all of us. … They're just working a lot, really hard, and making sure the public's protected.”

Cuomo said, “We are all very thankful to our health care heroes, our front-line workers, our essential workers. You watch television, there are all these nice commercials thanking everyone for what they did – and we should: nurses, doctors, police officers, transit workers – God bless them. But if you really want to say, ‘Thank you,’ make their life easier by not getting sick and not making someone else sick.

“An individual's role is to act responsibly and intelligently for yourself and for your family and for your community. Wear a mask. Wear a mask. I mean, that is the basic step, right? Socially distance. If you can't socially distance … (and) you're going to walk up next to a person, wear a mask.

“OK, it’s not the most attractive garment ever created – so what? ‘Well, I don't like it; it feels uncomfortable, unnatural.’ So what? You want to honor the health care workers and the people who literally gave their lives, in some cases, for what they did here? Act responsibly. Wear a mask.

“I know the weather is getting warmer. I know people want to get out of the house. Fine, wear a mask and socially distance. That is your social responsibility in the middle of this overall pandemic.

“And when we talk about New Yorkers together and this spirit of unity and how people are helping one another, and how tough we are, and how smart we are, and how disciplined we are, and how we love one another – show it. You know how you show love? By wearing a mask – please.”

Will it Work?

So, is the Village of Lewiston at greater risk?

“That’s a question for health officials. If people don’t practice social distancing, continue to wash hands, wear masks and gloves, they risk contracting and spreading the virus,” Welch said.

On Thursday, Cuomo announced the infection rate among health care workers is about the same or lower than the infection rate of the general population.

As part of her weekday afternoon community update on LCTV, Niagara County Legislature Chairwoman Becky Wydysh said, “The governor points out this probably shows that all of those precautions that the frontline workers are taking – washing hands, using hand sanitizer, wearing masks – that those things are working.

“It’s a reminder that that’s important for us, as well. Even if you’re not a frontline worker, you should still be doing those things. The data shows that they are truly making a difference in stopping the community spread.”

 

Metro Creative Graphics

WHAT THE CDC SAYS

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

•The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

CDC also advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.

•Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.

•The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators. Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for health care workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.

Transference:

•Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread from person to person through respiratory droplets. Currently, there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food. Before preparing or eating food, it is important to always wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds for general food safety. Throughout the day, use a tissue to cover your coughing or sneezing, and wash your hands after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, or going to the bathroom.

•It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object, like a packaging container, that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging.

Cuomo has said the virus can live on a stainless steel surface for two to three days.

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