Speaking to the media Monday at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, Gov. Andrew Cuomo suggested he will lessen restrictions placed on Western New York – and Erie County, in particular – which are designed to lessen the spread of the coronavirus.
“Positivity in Erie County was 8.6(%), it's down to 5.2(%), and it's been on decline for three weeks,” Cuomo said. “You also see the hospitalization number on decline. So, that is also good.”
Updates could happen on Wednesday.
Cuomo noted the “holiday spike” occurred, as he predicted, and from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, infection rates rose as more people gathered together indoors.
“We said we hoped the spike would end after Jan. 1, when people stopped socializing as much. And then you start to see it trail off – and we talked about mid-January and late-January, where we would see the spike dropping. And that's right where we are, frankly,” Cuomo said. “We're seeing that spike come down – that's the positivity numbers down and the hospitalization numbers down. So, now we can start making adjustments.
“I talk about open the valve, close the valve. When the positivity is down and the hospitalization rate is down, and the infection rate is down, and the (rate of transmission) is down, then you can increase economic activity. …
“I think we're at a new place now. And we can start to adjust that valve and start to open up more economic activity, and reduce some of the restrictions and reduce some of what we call micro-cluster zones, ‘orange zones,’ etc. And we're going to be talking more about that in the coming days.
“Department of Health is going through that right now. But, for example, elective surgeries had been stopped in Erie County, because we wanted to make sure we had enough hospital capacity for that spike. We now feel comfortable … elective surgeries can start, once again, in Erie County. And as I said, we're gonna have some more adjustments over the next couple of days.”
Cuomo was joined by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.
“It's been tough to live in these zones; I've been living in an ‘orange zone’ now since the middle of November,” she said. “We totally understand it, and I have been out speaking to the media, helping them understand that the governor forecast this spike. We talked about what could happen after the holidays – and, indeed in Buffalo, the holidays didn't end Jan. 1, because we went for weeks of (Buffalo Bills) playoff games, and that brought more people together. So, it was very cautious and smart to wait and see what happens until these adjustments are made. But I would say this region's ready. We've worked very hard to get hospital capacity up, and that's the most important dynamic.”
(Photo by Darren McGee/Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo)
Cuomo announced the start of the micro-cluster action initiative last October. He said this strategy would take a more detailed approach to curtailing COVID-19’s spread. Cuomo presented three zones: “yellow,” “orange” and “red,” with each level bringing more restrictions.
On Nov. 9, parts of Erie County – including Grand Island – were placed into the precautionary “yellow zone.” Restaurants, schools and gyms were among the areas facing restrictions on gatherings, and they were required to implement additional testing.
Nine days later – and with the infection rate still climbing – Cuomo moved portions of Erie County into an “orange zone,” with came with additional restrictions. Most notably, indoor dining was prohibited.
Portions of Niagara County went into a “yellow zone” on Dec. 14.
About that time, Cuomo updated the micro-cluster strategy to focus more on hospital capacity. Zone designations, however, did not change – even as Erie County’s infection rate percentage dropped below Niagara County’s number.
Speaking on behalf of Catholic Health, Mercy Hospital of Buffalo President Eddie Bratko said, “The resumption of elective surgeries is good news for patients throughout Western New York and we thank Gov. Cuomo for today’s announcement. Catholic Health has been meeting with our surgical chiefs and chairs throughout this latest suspension to plan for the eventual resumption of elective cases. We have a meeting scheduled for tomorrow to kickoff our plan to resume elective surgeries quickly and safely. Our surgeons will be reaching out to patients in the coming days to schedule their procedures and pre-op testing, which includes a COVID test. Because of the testing required prior to surgery, it (might) take several days for the elective cases to begin. Fortunately, we have the necessary processes and procedures in place from when we resumed elective surgeries in the spring and expect this to be a smooth transition for our surgeons and patients.”
Kaleida Health CEO Robert J. Nesselbush said, “On behalf of the entire Kaleida Health workforce and the patients that we serve, we want to thank Gov. Cuomo for today’s announcement about the resumption of elective surgeries in Erie County. This will undoubtedly have a positive impact on patient care and outcomes, not to mention our operations and our overall financial position.
“The pandemic has had a catastrophic impact on the health care delivery system here in Buffalo, Western New York and across New York state. COVID-19 has also put tremendous stress on thousands of patients who have had to put their health on hold as we battled this crisis together. We are most happy for these patients, who can now receive the world-class health care that our employees and physicians are known for. The dedication and efforts of our frontline workforce have been nothing short of heroic this past year.”
Cuomo announced New York's rate of transmission, or Rt, has dropped below 1. An Rt of 1 or more means COVID-19 will spread from one person to one or more people, on average.
“You can see, at our high point, one person was infecting two-and-a-half other people. They say anything over 1, the virus is out of control – when one person is infecting more than one other person. And, ideally, you want to be under 1. And that's where we are right now; but it's been a bumpy ride to get here,” Cuomo said.
Western New York’s coronavirus positivity rate on Sunday was 5.7%. In Niagara County, 90 out of the 1,513 people tested were positive (5.9%). The seven-day average was 7%. Active cases include:
In Erie County, 371 out of 6,810 people tested were positive for the coronavirus (5.4%). The seven-day average is 5.2%.