No one expected a global pandemic to shut the world down in 2020. A horrific virus infected millions – taking far too many lives – while causing businesses to shutter, a loss of income, and myriad canceled moments (proms, graduations, weddings, festivals, concerts, etc., etc.).
But as the calendar turned to 2021, most people had a confident expectation that the new year would bring back the events – if not the personal freedoms – of the pre-COVID world.
While more gatherings and activities took place, thanks in part to a coronavirus vaccine, 2021 wasn't exactly as advertised. In fact, as the holiday season wrapped, variants led to a record number of positive coronavirus cases in Western New York.
So, what is the mindset for 2022?
Will it be hopeful – that even more can be recaptured; that people will be freer to move about and enjoy events; that infection and hospitalization rates will plummet? Or will it be pessimistic – that in-person will once again be replaced by virtual; that already hard-hit merchants will face more restrictions; that people will just stay home?
We asked local leaders to weigh in on this topic and share their expectations – and plans – for 2022. Their answers will be shared as they are received.
Of course, we’d love to know what you think, too. Feel free to send us your thoughts.
Niagara County Legislature Chairwoman Becky Wydysh
In last month’s column, I touched upon the fact that the end of the year seemed to lack the sense of optimism that usually is part of ringing in the New Year. Obviously, the continuing pandemic is the major reason for this. In that column, I mentioned that we need to begin policies that recognize COVID-19 is here to stay. I want to further expound upon that.
At the January meeting of the Niagara County Legislature, Dan Stapleton, director of the Niagara County Department of Health (NCDOH) gave us an update on the evolving approach to dealing with COVID-19. Dan talked about how, at some point, we will move from viewing COVID-19 as a pandemic and instead it will be considered an endemic disease. So, what does that mean?
A pandemic is a global outbreak of illness in which a disease spreads quickly in unpredictable waves. The early stages of the pandemic, as we know too well, are spent trying to figure out the origin of the disease, the level of seriousness of the disease and how to treat/prevent it. As Director Stapleton has discussed, pandemics follow a pattern, and there can be multiple surges and decreases. Endemic status is essentially recognition that a disease is going to be here for a while, like many other diseases, and that we understand the risk factors, have treatments in place and are able to mitigate its impacts. An endemic phase usually means that enough people have gained some measure of protection, through vaccine and natural immunity, that we will experience significantly fewer hospitalizations and deaths, even though the disease is still present.
Right now, many experts believe we are in a transition phase from pandemic to endemic, with public policy changing to face this reality. Director Stapleton said this transition can be a bumpy ride, as there are those who want to simply just flip a switch and go back to the way things were. Others believe tougher protocols must continue to remain in place. Like most things, the right approach is probably somewhere in between.
Perhaps the biggest change of late is in regard to contact tracing. For those who have had COVID, you most likely had interaction with a contact tracer who wanted to know when you first had symptoms and who you may have been around. They sent you a notification that you must isolate and then provided a release allowing you to return to work, school and so on.
Now, contact tracers will no longer conduct case investigations or identify close contacts for the general public. Anyone that tests positive for COVID-19, either from a lab, pharmacy, medical office, school testing site, or at-home test, should self-isolate and visit the Niagara County website for instructions. Individuals should submit positive results from at-home tests on the NCDOH “Positive COVID-19 Home Test Reporting Form.”
Residents will no longer be contacted to be released from isolation. NCDOH has updated their website to include links to the New York State Department of Health documents required for return to work/school for individuals who have completed isolation and quarantine. In addition, those who test positive should notify their household and other close contacts. Instructions for those close contacts to follow are on the website as well.
This is just one example of how we are shifting to people taking more individual responsibility for COVID protocols while local health departments focus on vaccines, boosters and testing. This is necessitated by the sheer volume of cases during omicron and the recognition that we collectively all have a better understanding of what needs to be done. It’s also a step toward just “learning to live with it.”
Clearly, all of this is much different than when we would hear talk of “defeating the virus” or “beating COVID.” I don’t envision any victory parades or declarations that the war with COVID-19 is over. At the same time, I believe we will move past any talks of closures, restrictions, etc. Instead, we will go back to living our lives without COVID being a consistent presence hanging over everything we do.
Town of Niagara Supervisor Lee S. Wallace
Based on the last two years, there is really no way to predict the road ahead as it is related to COVID-19. Our first priority has been and will continue to be the health and safety of our constituents and our employees. The issues and concerns related to COVID-19 are ever changing and thus our approach will be to continue to monitor things on a daily basis and adjust as needed. We are hopeful that as we get into March-April that the infection rates will decrease significantly, and we approach the spring and summer of 2022 with cautious optimism.
Sarah Nelson, Director of Marketing and Membership,
Chamber of Commerce of the Tonawandas
With 2022 just beginning, I am excited to work with our members to take what steps are needed to help their businesses succeed. I am also excited to work with my team to come up with new and creative ways to reinvent the wheel. We have many new events and programs in 2022, which I am excited to launch with the team at the Chamber of Commerce of the Tonawandas!
Mark and Cheryl Butera, on behalf of the Youngstown Business & Professional Association
YBPA has been incorporated since 1976. It has grown from a few members to approximately 80 members to date. With the many difficulties of these past years with the COVID-19 health problems and even the past shutdowns, this month alone we are already receiving dues for 2022. Our members are committed to surviving.
We did reschedule our Jan. 11 membership meeting to April 12 for safety purposes. Safety is always priority. All Youngstown/Porter businesses follow the state guidelines for public safety, especially regarding indoor activities.
We are proud to report our association has the full backing of Town of Porter elected officials Duffy Johnston, Timothy Adamson (who is our direct liaison to T.O.P.), and even Irene Myers (Niagara County legislator). Stu Commerford is our liaison representing the Village of Youngstown as a village trustee. All of us are working together to promote all that our area has to offer both local residents as well as our visitors.
Speaking of visitors, the closing of the bridges and travel from our Canadian friends has been notable. Being a very active waterfront and sailing/boating/ tourist area during these difficult times, every business has noticed the loss of their friendly faces and dollars. We are hopeful this issue will turn itself turn around in 2022.
There is talk of the Niagara River Greenway Trail bicycle trail extending along the Niagara River to Lake Ontario and Porter on the Lake. How exciting is that? Also, NJA was sold to the Hornblower group from Canada awaiting “rebranding” in Youngstown also in 2022. Also, David Graf of Youngstown is actively working to reopen the old theater in Fort Niagara State Park for live theater productions and concerts. Let’s not forget the Discover Niagara Shuttle, which offers free rides from Old Fort Niagara to Niagara Falls itself and more! There is so much excitement and positive energy coming to our area.
Regarding the business district in Youngstown proper and the Town of Porter more broadly, many of our businesses have struggled, but most have survived – and in some ways become even stronger.
The Ontario House (aka “The Jug”) made some major renovations last year in order to accommodate more access to the outdoors for safety from closed-in spaces, and now has a major pavilion for live music and many other events. They met the need and then some.
Youngstown can now boast of three beautiful murals created by artist Alessandra Price. The first was created on Lockport Street next to The Dance Shop Studio (owner Amy Roush), depicting a scroll of historic Youngstown. Next, Ali created the mural across the street at Anchor Spirits Wine shop, which also depicts the history and story of Youngstown – including a soldier originally created by our local legend, William “Bill” Suitor. And most recently, the entrance to Peace of Mind Wellness & Counselling Services, owned and operated by Colleen Mary Johnson Summerville at her office located at 409 Main St., in the Village of Youngstown.
Last year, we celebrated the opening of three new businesses. We now have the Sister and Brother Children’s Apparel (431 Main St.) owners Lisa and Mark Leffler; Hill of Beans Coffee Stop owners Lewis and Karen Bean (440 Main St.); and Barker Outdoors (located at 105 Lockport St.) owners Jeffery and Santina Barker.
As reported by NFP, our YBPA was able to secure the William G. Mayne Jr. grant before the end of 2021. One of the items we secured were beautiful 36-inch LED snowflakes to celebrate the holiday seasons for years to come. Three of our members who are located on the outskirts of the village have purchased their own snowflake (idea started by none other the Pat Stack, owner of Somewhere – Youngstown): Somewhere, also Ray’s Tavern on Lake Road, and Bandanas on Old Lake Road. This shows the bond we all have to be seen as “belonging” to an all for one, and one for all team.
Coming this year is something Youngstown has been without since 2018 – a grocery store! Youngstown Marketside, located at 230 Lockport St., plans to open April 1, per a Buffalo Business First report on Jan. 18. “Majority owner” Daniella Vanoni is from Youngstown and hopes to offer all that we have been missing, including a café and bake shop. Daniella is our newest YBPA member. Our community could not be more excited!
Thanks to our VP Dotty Riordan, our free “Concerts in Falkner Park” were able to entertain last summer and plan to return this year as well. Great news as well for Victoria’s Family Hair Care is the return of Chrissy Parish offering hair/makeup/and nail services (we missed Chrissy).
Not to forget That Barber & Co located at 434 Main St.
Members Ken Scibetta and Ed Webster are working toward opening a brewery and restaurant on Lockport Street. Certainly, their plans were slowed down by the many COVID-19 issues, including the shutdown, but we are hopeful for movement in 2022.
One year ago, we used our grant monies to secure our own website and email account through working with Matt Villnave, owner of Lewiston Digital LLC: www.youngstownny.com and [email protected]. Only $50 per year membership fee.
This year, the YBPA will hold its annual O’Riordan St Patrick’s Day parade on Saturday, March 19, beginning at noon, meeting on Hinman Street. This parade is led by the OFN soldiers with director Robert Emerson at the lead. We end at the Ontario House for fun, prizes and Irish music.
Also, our second major event is the YBPA 12th annual Street Dance and Car Cruise with the Thurman Brothers Band. We always have a big turnout, and this band has a huge following. We’re lucky to have them in our own backyard. All of the local businesses are open that night from 6-10 p.m. (whether they belong to YBPA or not) because it’s fun, it’s free, and it’s the beginning of summer.
The YBPA is a volunteer association – nobody is a paid staff. All we accomplish is due to hard work and good folks who truly take pride in our little slice of heaven known as Youngstown, New York.
We are looking forward to 2022.