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COVID-19 sanctions coming to Erie County

by jmaloni

UPDATED

Sat, Nov 7th 2020 10:00 am

Cuomo: Western New York ‘problematic’

Addressing the media in a conference call Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he is strongly considering placing portions of Western New York into a micro-cluster category, which could mean limitations on places reopened under phase four of his “New York Forward” plan. This is as the local rate of new coronavirus cases spiked above 5% in Erie County and 3% overall in recent days.

“Western New York is a problem,” Cuomo said. “The infection rate in Western New York has gone from 1.5 (percent of new positive cases) to 2.8. Erie County has the highest infection rate in Western New York at 3.1. Within Erie County, the highest clusters are Buffalo, Hamburg, Tonawanda, Orchard Park.”

Monroe County and portions of Central New York also have seen a rise in new cases.

Cuomo continued, “Western New York – Dr. (Howard) Zucker (New York state’s health commissioner), who's on the phone, said that, given the dramatic increase we're seeing in Erie County, it would be reckless from a public health point of view to open the stadium to spectators at this time; which I find disappointing on a personal level, but this is a public health issue first and, as I've said, I follow the advice of the public health experts. Hopefully, we get the numbers under control and we continue to monitor the situation on an ongoing basis. If we get the numbers under control, I would very much look forward to watching a Bills game myself.

“In these areas, Western New York – well, let's just call it Erie, Monroe, Onondaga; in these areas we're going to study them over the weekend. We're going to talk to the elected officials over the weekend and try to find out exactly what is going on so that we can design a micro-cluster strategy that is responsive. But at these numbers and in these areas a micro-cluster response is appropriate.

“We tailor the micro-cluster strategy to the particulars of that area and, therefore, we want to have conversations over the weekend and then I'll have an announcement on Monday as to exactly what we're going to do."

Earlier in the week, when asked if the Buffalo Bills would be allowed to have fans watch NFL games from the Orchard Park stadium, the governor said Western New York has been problematic for weeks.

On Friday, he stated, “Interesting phenomenon is we have a disparate scene across the state, and what's happening is what we said would happen, which is people are in control of the spread of the virus. How you behave today determines whether or not you get sick tomorrow. Individual action, it's all about individual action. If you take it seriously, and you act that way, you will be safer. If you are reckless, you will be less safe. If you don't believe there's a risk, you will be less safe. And we're seeing that vividly.

“In general, downstate New York is doing better than upstate New York, which is a total reversal from the first phase of COVID, where it was primarily a downstate problem and upstate New York said, ‘Oh, this is not a problem; this is not a problem.’ It's a total reversal.”

Numbers Don’t Lie

By the numbers, Western New York’s percentage is again a state leader. On Friday, Erie County had 379 new cases (second in New York) while the region sported a state-high 4.3% positive test rate.

These numbers have risen all week:

  • Thursday: 3.3% (highest region in NYS), with 215 new positive cases in Erie County
  • Wednesday: 3.3% (second-highest), with 215 positive cases in Erie County
  • Tuesday: 3.4% (highest), with 160 positive cases in Erie County
  • Monday: 3% (highest), with 164 positive cases in Erie County
  • Sunday: 2.1% (fifth-highest), with 53 positive cases

Western New York was a league leader several times over the summer, but it was only approaching 2% at that time.

In a press conference Wednesday, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Erie County Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein expressed concern about the rising numbers, and reminded residents to wear a mask, socially distance and stay away from group gatherings.

Poloncarz said the “bad” situation required “people to take this seriously.”

“Unless we take it seriously, we’re going to have continued growth,” he noted.

Burstein said, “Remember, our testing results are reflective of our community's behavior. So, this is something we could have control over.”

Cuomo first announced his “cluster action initiative” on Oct. 6. A press release said, “Working with the top public health experts, New York state developed a science-based approach to attack these clusters and stop any further spread of the virus, including new rules and restrictions directly targeted to areas with the highest concentration of COVID cases and the surrounding communities.”

The document noted, “The plan was developed in consultation with national public health experts including Dr. Noam Ross of EcoHealth Alliance, Dr. Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota, and former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden.”

The governor said, "A cluster is just that – it's a cluster of cases, a high density of cases, and it seeps and grows from that cluster almost in concentric circles. Drop a pebble into the pond, the pebble goes in, then there's one ring, two rings, three rings, and the rings continue across the pond. When you see the cluster, you have to stop it at that point. Our strategy is to crush the cluster and stop the spread, and we're announcing a special initiative to do just that. Step one, you take the most dramatic action within the cluster itself where you have the highest density of cases. Understanding that the people in that cluster interface with the surrounding communities, take additional action in the communities surrounding the cluster. Then as a precautionary measure, take action in the communities that are outlying that area."

Within a cluster area, there are yellow, orange and red “zones.”

Jump to the bottom to see what happens if Erie County enters into the “cluster action initiative” protocol.

Cuomo Addresses Other Concerns

In addition to speaking about Western and Central New York, the governor said:

“We're worried about the holiday season. We're worried about behavior in the state, we're worried about behavior out of the state. I've cautioned before, people should beware of small gatherings this year. I've said that we have a very strict quarantine policy in place for the holiday weekend travel, period. We're going to be increasing enforcement personnel at the New York airports.

“You should not land if you do not have proof of a negative test upon landing. You're supposed to take a test where you're coming from within three days and it is supposed to show a negative test.

“I'm increasing the National Guard. I spoke to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio about increasing the New York Police Department at the airports, but I want people to know we're serious.”

Cuomo also said colleges “have been highly problematic.”

“SUNY is going to send kids home for the Thanksgiving break. They're going to do what's called ‘exit testing,’ another new concept,” the governor explained. “They're going to test every student on the way out so students that are infected will know where they're going and what to do and how to get there.

“SUNY is also going to cancel the return from the Thanksgiving break and do remote learning for the rest of the semester, which takes us to about February and then we'll figure out in February what we do. In other words, from SUNY, go home for Thanksgiving, don't come back, go to remote learning. And then we'll figure out next semester, next semester.

“I'm asking private colleges to review what SUNY did, take that action into consideration, but announce what their policy is going to be, because I need to make a decision whether the state should set a policy for private colleges. To send children home for Thanksgiving (and) then bring them back, basically for a couple of weeks, from across the country and then end the semester literally two-three weeks later, doesn't make a lot of sense to me. The SUNY policy does make sense; I applaud them for that. I'd like to hear what the private colleges are thinking.”

Micro-cluster Metrics

Erie County would enter into a yellow micro-cluster area with:

•A seven-day rolling average positivity above 2.5% for 10 days; and

•Ten or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents on a seven-day average.

Additional factors also could warrant a “yellow zone”:

•If a geographic area has minimum of five new cases per day on a seven-day average for geographic areas (i.e. ZIP code) with 10,000 or more residents, a minimum of three new cases on a seven-day average per day for areas with less than 10,000 residents; and

•The increase in positive cases or positivity reflect community spread and cannot be mostly explained by a cluster in a single institution (e.g. nursing home, factory, college, etc.) or household transmission; and

•The State Department of Health, in consultation with the local department of health, finds that, based on the above listed metrics, and other epidemiological factors – such as an upward trend in total and daily hospital admissions from residents of this geographic area – that a zone designation is appropriate.

Per the governor’s office, a “yellow zone – precautionary/buffer” area either is put in place as a broader buffer area to ensure COVID-19 outbreak is not spreading into the broader community ("yellow buffer zone") or is implemented independently based on the metrics ("yellow precautionary zone"). The purpose of a yellow buffer zone is to 1) restrict some activity to help prevent further spread from “red” and/or “orange warning zone” area; 2) provide a larger defined geographic area where metrics can be monitored daily to ensure COVID-19 is not spreading beyond the “red zone” or “orange warning zone.”

In a “yellow zone” or “precautionary zone”:

  • Houses of worship are limited to 50% capacity.
  • Mass gatherings are 25 people maximum, indoor or outdoor.
  • Businesses remain open.
  • Indoor and outdoor dining is restricted to four persons maximum per table.
  • Schools are open, but with mandatory weekly testing of students and teachers/staff for in-person settings.

Should the governor and his team determine Erie County is worse off than a “yellow zone,” the restrictions would be greater:

‘Orange Zone’ – Warning zone

  • Houses of worship: 33% capacity, 25 people maximum
  • Mass gatherings: 10 people maximum, indoor and outdoor
  • Businesses: Closing high-risk nonessential businesses such as gyms and personal care
  • Dining: Outdoor dining only, four-person maximum per table
  • Schools: Closed, remote only

‘Red Zone’ – Cluster itself

  • Houses of worship: 25% capacity, 10 people maximum
  • Mass gatherings: Prohibited
  • Businesses: Only essential businesses open
  • Dining: Takeout only
  • Schools: Closed, remote only

Get Tested

Erie County residents can call 716-858-2929 to schedule a free, basic COVID-19 diagnostic test.

No symptoms need to be present, nor is a lab order or doctor’s referral required. An appointment is necessary, however.

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