Erie County COVID-19 State of Emergency; schools closed until April 20

17 hours ago

One day after it was announced that Erie County has three active cases of COVID-19 , County Executive Mark Poloncarz said the number of people in quarantine will rise Sunday, and he declared a state of emergency that later prompted all schools in Erie and Niagara counties to shut down until April 20.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, with Health Commissioner Gale Burstein MD, declares a COVID-19 State of Emergency
Credit WBFO Photo

“It is clear to me that I do not want to wait for an infection of any student, any staff," said Buffalo Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash, who announced the decision after a late Sunday conference call where superintendents and BOCES officials agreed to the widespread long term shutdown.

"This decision needs to be made. We are all in agreement, " Cash said.

The decision came hours after states of emergency were announced in both Erie and Niagara counties.

CDC guidance says school closures are more likely when that district has an active student or staff case, but is not automatic said Dr. Gale Burstein, MD, the Erie County Health Commissioner before the move was made.

"It will give schools the opportunity to clean, give (county epidemiological workers) to time to  investigate, and schools to plan," Burstein said.

In a rare Sunday morning briefing, Poloncarz revealed that the three cases in Erie County include "a female in her 20s who recently traveled out of the state. There's a man in his 30s who recently traveled to Westchester County. A third is a woman who travelled to Italy," he said.

The individuals are in quarantine at private homes, and he said the three infected people live in Clarence, Buffalo, and Grand Island.

Poloncarz said that because the three cases did not know each other or have apparent contact with each other the assumption is that there are undiscovered cases in the community, rather than an isolated, related cluster of people that came in contact with each other  .

"We are going under the assumption it is everywhere. It can be transferred from individual to individual."
- Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz

People who have serious chronic infection of the novel Coronavirus  have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death. Symptoms of  COVID-19 infection from the novel Corona virus include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure  in the chest, confusion and bluish lips or face

Individuals who are experiencing symptoms and may have traveled to areas of concern, or have been in contact with somebody who has traveled to these areas, should call ahead to their health care provider before seeking testing.

“If you have questions about your health,  you should call your doctor first…that is what your personal physician or primary care doctor is for," Burstein said.

Early information out of China, where COVID-19 first started, shows that some people are at higher risk of getting very sick –including older adults, and people who have serious conditions like heart disease, diabetes, or lung disease.

" We recommend that people avoid any event or location with 50 or more people, especially if it involves people from outside Erie County. And we strongly recommend that people over the age of 60 or with chronic medical issues don't attend such events.," he said.

The NYS Dept. of Health says most cases are now likely to be spread from person to person by droplets when coughing. Therefore, Poloncarz and Burstein both had a stern warning for bars and other gathering places under 500 people that are not following the state rules mandating they do not exceed half capacity.

" If you have a liquor license and you are violating a specific order of the governor, that information would be transmitted to the state liquor authority. They could shut you down, possibly permanently. It's better to lose a few days business than be shut down entirely, Poloncasrz said. 

While the city's Old First Ward St. Patrick's Day parade was officially canceled on Saturday, some folks marched anyway and Poloncarz addressed widespread reports that some bars were filled with patrons,in violation of  the state declaration.

"That that is not good, because that's how you can spread it in the community," Poloncarz said. " We reccommend that people avoid any event or location with 50 or more people, especially if it involves people from outside Erie County. And we strongly reccommend that people over the age of 60 or with chronic medical issues don't attend such events.

County health sanitarians would be making some rounds, and information will be sent to the State Liquor Authority, putting licenses in jeopardy if an extreme and obvious violation is found, he added.