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With 'explosion' of COVID-19 cases in Erie County, 'orange zone' could turn 'red' this week

by jmaloni
Mon, Nov 23rd 2020 07:50 pm

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday morning again told New Yorkers they hold their own destiny when it comes to stopping the spread of coronavirus.

“These are dangerous times that we're in,” he said. “The COVID rate, number of deaths, number of hospitalizations, everything we watch all day on TV, is all a function of our actions. There is no predetermined result here; it is a result of our actions. You tell me what New Yorkers do today, I will tell you the infection rate tomorrow. It's a direct result.”

In Erie County, where more than a dozen municipalities were placed into a micro-cluster action initiative “orange zone” last week, further sanctions could be implemented if the infection rate continues to rise.

“On the warning track, parts of Erie County are on track to become a ‘red zone,’ the governor said.

Speaking to press Monday afternoon, Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein said, “We are seeing an explosion of cases in the past two weeks. So actually, for this past week, we've seen 10 times as many cases as the week ending on Oct. 17; so compared to a month ago. And then the positivity rate this past week was six times higher than the week ending Oct. 17, which was about a month ago. So we've had, really, an explosion since the beginning of November. And the number of specimens that are being tested have also significantly increased; they've actually nearly doubled this month compared to last month.

“We've seen also not just an increase of number of people testing positive, but also the proportion of people testing positive – and that's despite an increasing number of people who are tested in the first place. So, we're seeing an explosion of cases in Erie County.”

She noted, “There are some areas of Erie County that have very, very high rates; a very high proportion of people in the county in that area are infected. So, for example, in Hamburg, Lancaster, those are both over 80 new cases per hundred thousand population per day. We're also seeing other areas like Cheektowaga, Eden – these are all very, very high – and we haven't seen these numbers in a very long time. This is a huge problem.

“What it means is that COVID-19 is out there. You can't assume that anybody that you're with, anybody that you're near, anybody that you room with, is not infected; because we're seeing so much infection in the county. And we just have to act appropriately to make sure that we can just start to bring these numbers down.”

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said, “The governor earlier today said we are trending to be in a ‘red zone.’ …

“If you saw the governor today, he's very worried – as well he should be – because we're seeing a spike. And as he noted, the Town of Lancaster has the highest infection rate, on a weekly basis, than any other community in New York state. Basically 9.7%.

“We have to do better. We do not want to go into a ‘red zone.’ ”

In that scenario, Poloncarz said, “All nonresidential gatherings are prohibited. All residential gatherings are prohibited. Houses of worship are limited to 10 people. Nonessential businesses are closed. There's a long, long list of nonessential businesses. Dining: takeout, delivery only. There's no outdoor dining at that point. And schools (are remote learning). Schools can test out, but it's very difficult.

“So, we want to avoid the ‘red zone.’ The governor said we are trending towards it – and he's not wrong – though I am glad to say we have seen a stabilization in the testing positivity rate. We are still seeing an increase in the number of individuals testing positive in some communities based on the population being 100,000 average. It's good to see that the positivity rate seems to have leveled off around 7%, but remember the level to go to ‘red’ is 4% or above. So, New York state could automatically put us in ‘red.’

“We have seen a leveling off, which is good. I hope the data that comes today, which will be for yesterday, will show either a leveling off or a dropping. But if we saw big spikes in the near future, we could go ‘red.’ We’re trying to avoid it. …

“We need to do our best to avoid the ‘red.’ It is as close to a complete shutdown as we had earlier in the year, except some essential businesses like banks, some essential construction, but not all; other types of types of businesses can stay open, but at extreme reductions – and we want to avoid that, as much as possible.”

Poloncarz later added, “We need to ensure that we are all in this together, we bring down the numbers. We do not want to go into the ‘red zone’; the ‘red zone’ would be very bad. The shutdowns that we've had so far would seem minuscule compared to what the ‘red zone’ would be. And it's possible that, by Wednesday, if things don't get turned better, the state could shut us down.

“I'm having conversations all the time. Spent a number of conversations today with state officials, and they are worried. I look at it this way: The governor said what he said earlier today because he's serious – that we are trending in the wrong direction – and we need to find a way to get that down, because we do not want to go into the ‘red zone.’ ”

COVID-19 Statistics

Here are today’s numbers:

Erie County

As of Sunday, Erie County had 497 new positive coronavirus cases, and a yearly total of 21,314 confirmed COVID-19 samples (including 380 on Grand Island and 8,893 in the City of Buffalo). Sunday’s positivity rate was 6.1%, with 8,160 individuals tested.

To date, 689,966 people have been tested (3.1% positive), with 771 deaths attributed to the coronavirus. Also, 91,254 people have taken an antibody test (7.1% positive).

Images courtesy of the Erie County “heat map”

“Orange” and “yellow” micro-cluster zones

Niagara County

The Niagara County Department of Health issued the following update on positive COVID-19 cases:

Source: Niagara County active case map

Source: Niagara County “heat map”

Each region's percentage of positive test results reported over the past three days is as follows:

Poloncarz said, “None of us want to deal with this. …

“(But) this is all about saving people's lives. It's all about public health. It's not about power. It's not about control. It's not about politics. It's about saving people's lives. And I need everyone out there – Democrats, Republicans, Independents – to understand this is not political. This is about saving people's lives; coming together as Americans – regardless of your political affiliation – so that, years from now, we can talk about how bad it was in 2020, but we got through it because we came together as Americans. And that's the spirit we need, especially as we enter Thanksgiving.”

He said it’s important people realize, “I know you want to be there with your family (on Thanksgiving), but it's best if you're only there with your immediate family – for your own sake, as well as theirs.”

Images courtesy of Erie County

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