Following almost a week of warnings by local elected leaders, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday did, in fact, move portions of Erie County into an “orange” micro-cluster zone.
“Western New York, worst situation in the state of New York. Worst situation: 5.1% (new infection rate),” Cuomo said.
Speaking to the press, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said, “Earlier today, I had a long conversation with the governor, lieutenant governor, key members of the governor's staff, as we talked about where Erie County was. We went through the positivity rates, the rate of infection growth in our greater community. A determination was made that we had to put a good-sized portion of Erie County into the ‘orange zone.’ And the remainder of Erie County would be in the ‘yellow zone.’
“So, everything that was previously in the ‘yellow zone’ has been turned ‘orange’ based on the rapid increase infection rate. And also the towns of Eden and Evans, because we've seen spinoff and growth primarily from what is the highest part in our entire community, the Town of Hamburg.”
The “orange zone” includes the City of Buffalo, the City of Lackawanna, the City of Tonawanda, and the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Cheektowaga, Clarence, Eden, Elma, Evans, Grand Island, Hamburg, Lancaster, Orchard Park, the Town of Tonawanda and the Town of West Seneca.
Moving to a “yellow zone” are Alden, Boston, Brant, Colden, Collins, Concord, Holland, Marilla, Newstead, North Collins, Sardinia and Wales.
Restrictions begin Friday for nonessential, higher-risk industries, and then Monday for school districts.
In an “orange zone,” both residential and nonresidential gatherings are limited to 10 people, whether indoors or outdoors.
Images courtesy of the Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo
Poloncarz further detailed the restrictions:
•Houses of Worship
“With regards to houses of worship, if you are in the ‘orange zone,’ it is the lesser of 33% capacity or 25 people, the lesser of,” he said. “And for a ‘yellow zone,’ it is 50% capacity.”
“With regards to businesses, there are certain high-risk nonessential businesses that have to close effective Friday in the ‘orange zone.’ In the ‘yellow zone,’ they can stay open. … It's all high-risk as determined not just by the New York State Department of Health, but by the CDC.”
He said, “It is higher-risk businesses associated with the transmission of COVID-19 viruses, including gyms, fitness centers or classes, barbers, hair salons, spas, tattoo or piercing parlors, nail technicians and nail salons, cosmetologist, esthetician, the provision of laser hair removal and electrolysis, and all other personal care services shall reduce in-person workforce in that area by 100%.
“So, we wanted people to understand this is directly from Gov. Cuomo’s executive order 202.68. This is not myself making it up. This is what's been in place, with regards to the cluster zones for the ‘orange zone.’ ”
Poloncarz said, “It is generally locations where there are multiple people working together, people in the public, who then would travel in and out among the community.”
He noted, “You can finish your work today. You can complete whatever appointments you have tomorrow. But then, on Friday, you have to stop the service.”
Image courtesy of "New York Forward"
“Dining, everybody wants to know about dining. Outdoor dining, delivery and takeout is still allowed for all bars and restaurants in the ‘orange zone.’ You cannot have indoor dining.
“ ‘Yellow zone,’ you can have indoor dining, as well as outdoor dining, but you’re limited to no more than four people per table.
“So, in the ‘orange zone,’ restaurants and bars can no longer have indoor dining; they can have outdoor dining: it's limited to four people per table.”
“The schools are to be remote – except they can test out. There'll be more information that is going to be provided to the schools very soon. The lieutenant governor and I were very adamant about giving the schools an opportunity to test out if they so want. The testing restrictions are not easy to make, but they will have an opportunity to test out. Otherwise, they must go virtually.
“Now this is different, of course, than the ‘red zone,’ where pretty much everything shuts down, including the schools, businesses, houses of worship to an effect, and no gatherings. So, we're not in a ‘red zone.’ It's highly possible some of the regions could have gone in the ‘red zone,’ but they would have been so detailed. In some ways, it would have been unfair that one street would have been shut down, but the next street might have been open.
“So, we felt it was best to ensure that we reiterated the dangerous situation that we have, to try to stem the tide with regards to the growth of the coronavirus and COVID-19 cases.”
Poloncarz noted, “The City of North Tonawanda in the County of Niagara has been added to the ‘yellow zone.’ It was very much worried about the growth in cases in North Tonawanda. And considering the amount of cross-border shopping/dining that goes on, and the new cases, the governor's office informed us that it was important that they also included North Tonawanda in the ‘yellow zone,’ even though it is not in Erie County.”
How Did This Happen?
Over the summer, Western New York was often the highest state region in terms of daily percentage of new positive coronavirus cases. Back then, the number was around 2%. Over the past month, that number has skyrocketed past 5%.
Earlier this week, Erie County Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein said, “31% of all the Erie County cases reported since the beginning of the pandemic were in the last four weeks – and 16% of all the cases reported in Erie County since the beginning of the pandemic were just in the past week itself.”
She noted, “We are seeing an exponential rise in our cases. Our reproductive rate is 1.5. So, (for) every one person that is infected, we can expect 1.5 person to get infected as a result of that one person. This is a bad situation.”
The governor opined, “Western New York never lived the full pain of COVID's wrath. Western New York read about New York City (last spring), they read about Long Island, they watched it on the TV news, but the numbers were never as bad in Western New York.”
“I believe they didn't have the same level of fear – and what caused so many people in New York to change their behavior? It was the fear,” Cuomo said. “ ‘Why do you guys wear the masks now?’ ‘Oh, because you said we have to. There is a law that says it.’ No, you wear the masks because you're afraid of COVID and because you're concerned about other people, but because you think it's real, because it is real for you.
“Western New York never felt that same level of reality.”
Cuomo said, “What's the good news? The good news is micro-clusters work. Following the rules work. Broome County was a ‘yellow’ and an ‘orange.’ Broome County was a ‘yellow zone.’ It's now under control and is back to normal. Orange County was a ‘yellow zone.’ Little confusing. It is now back to normal. Brooklyn was an ‘orange zone.’ It's being dropped to a ‘yellow zone.’ So, the restrictions work.
“And just to make it very simple, if you socially distance and you wore a mask and you were smart, none of this would be a problem. It's all self-imposed. It's all self-imposed. If you didn't eat the cheesecake, you wouldn't have a weight problem. It's all self-imposed.”
Images courtesy of Erie County
Poloncarz said, “There are now 19,151 total positive cases through yesterday. Yesterday alone, there were 516 new cases in Erie County out of 7,451 case reports that were provided to the Department of Health – which turns out to be a 6.8% positivity rate. Confirmed through yesterday, is now 758 people have died. We've seen a number of deaths in the most recent period.”
He explained, “On Nov. 16, there were 185 individuals admitted to Western New York hospitals for COVID-19; 150 of them in Erie County. We've, of course, seen rapid increase in hospitalizations over the last week to 10 days. Of the 150 from Erie County, 32 of them were in the ICU and 11 had an airway assist. …
“Steep increase in hospitalizations over the past week; and the latest data shows nearly 50% of all patients are 64 and under. It was actually 47%. So, the individuals who are in the hospital are not just the elderly.”
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul released the following statement on Facebook: “Following Governor Andrew Cuomo's announcement, and after convening this evening's Western New York control room call, it's clear that COVID-19 is spreading throughout the region and if we do not change what we are doing right now, this deadly virus will continue to take the lives of countless more New Yorkers and lead to further shutdowns.
“None of this should be a surprise – the numbers are rising because there are people who choose not to follow the guidance and are actively jeopardizing the health & safety of fellow Western New Yorkers.
“We know how to stop the spread. We all want our local businesses and schools to reopen as soon as possible. We can make that happen. Governor Cuomo and I have been saying it since the beginning: wear a mask, limit gatherings, and socially distance.
“I will continue to work closely with Governor Cuomo & his team and coordinate on a daily basis with county & local officials & public health experts to underline the severity of this pandemic.
“No one wants to go backward – together, we can stop the spread and save lives, but only if we stay smart and do what works.”
√ Erie County – New ‘Orange Warning Zone’ – Click Here for Map
Parts of the Erie ‘yellow precautionary zone’ meet the metrics to transition to an ‘orange warning zone.’ The previous ‘yellow zone’ is expanded to include new parts of Erie County seeing upticks in new cases, positivity, and hospital admissions.
√ Niagara County – New ‘Yellow Precautionary Zone’ – Click Here for Map
North Tonawanda has seen an uptick in cases and positivity and meets the metrics for a “yellow precautionary zone.”
In Erie County, a "yellow" micro-cluster area is initiated upon:
•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”:
‘Orange Zone’ – Warning zone
An "orange zone" is triggered when the infection rate goes to 3%. Restrictions include:
‘Red Zone’ – Cluster itself
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.
Local and state leaders have speculated the new coronavirus wave of infections began, in large part, with people having Halloween get-togethers. As such, both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz warned residents to limit their Thanksgiving gatherings.
Cuomo said, “Thanksgiving is coming up. Here's my next personal opinion and theory: You will see a tremendous spike after Thanksgiving. A tremendous spike after Thanksgiving. No scientific data, no health commissioner said that – that's my personal theory. Why? Because Thanksgiving is a holiday and people come together; and if you don't have a real fear about COVID, you're going to come together. And you see people saying, ‘Nobody's going to stop me from coming together. That's my family, you can't tell me don't socialize with my family.’
“It's going to happen. It is going to happen, and it's going to happen because it's human behavior.”
Poloncarz said, “Just like Gov. Cuomo said, and I posted earlier today on social media, we need to learn from what happened to our neighbors to the north and west – depending where you are – in Canada. They had their Thanksgiving in October. Their Thanksgiving is always in October. They saw a big spike in cases and hospitalizations as a result of people gathering for Thanksgiving. That is why we are recommending that you do not have the normal Thanksgiving, except with your immediate family members. …
“The Canadian experience showed that there was rapid spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19 cases from individuals who went to family and friends’ house for Thanksgiving. Let's learn from their experience.
“This is not a war on Thanksgiving. We want people to have Thanksgiving. We also want people in 2021 to be around at the dinner table for that Thanksgiving. We hate to see the stories that come out of an individual catching COVID-19 from a family member who either didn't know they had it, because they were asymptomatic, or just had like what they thought were the sniffles. …
“Please, have Thanksgiving with your immediate family. Do not go to your other family members or friends that you normally would do, because there's a very good chance that you're going to be putting them at risk, or yourself at risk, and nobody wants to do that.”