Erie County government employee has COVID-19, Poloncarz confirms

Mar 27, 2020

A member of Erie County government, identified only as anindividual who has worked in the county's coronavirus first response efforts, has tested positive for COVID-19. County Executive Mark Poloncarz confirmed the case, as part of his daily briefing on the pandemic and its local numbers. 

The individual is isolated at home, according to Poloncarz, who added that he and other personnel have been monitoring their own health since the person in question was found to have the virus.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, seen in the distance at right, walked through the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center Friday, where he and others explored the possibility of using the space for up to 1,000 hospital beds, if needed.
Credit Facebook/County Executive Mark Poloncarz

"This just goes to show, even though this individual was active in our response, they may have caught it from another source outside and our belief is through the contact tracing that this person contracted COVID-19 from a source outside of county government," he said. "We want people to understand that it can be anywhere. And this is an individual who was doing everything possible to wash his or her hands, keep themselves safe, and they still contracted it."

As of Friday afternoon, 245 positive test results had been recorded by public health labs. Five people, as of that update, have died from the illness while 16 people have recovered. The remainder were still active cases. (Click here for Erie County's COVID-19 case map.)

Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said the county has not been able to conduct more tests because there remains a shortage of personal protective equipment. Hospitals are reporting varying levels of supply.

"We know that we're going to have many, many more people hospitalized, including in the ICU. So that is, is very, very important," Burstein said. "I know the hospitals have put a call out and for anybody in the community, any healthcare offices that have PPE that they can spare because they're not seeing patients right now. it'd be great if they could contact one of the hospitals or Erie County government. We'd be happy to accept it."

Poloncarz, earlier in the day, met with representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers and other officials at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. The facility is under consideration for use as a hospital site where, Poloncarz estimates, up to 1,000 beds could be positioned.

"We're hoping we don't need it. We're expecting we might. And we're planning for it because once again, you plan for the worst hope for the best. And right now we're planning for the worst," he said.

Poloncarz added that other sites are under consideration. Hotels are a possibility, though he stated the Buffalo Grand, which has closed during the pandemic, is not one county officials are eyeing.

WGRZ-TV reported Friday that a hotel that is being used for quarantines is the Fairfield Inn in Amherst. Rooms there are being used for individuals who need to quarantine but have no other place to stay.

A spokesperson for the Erie County Health Department told WBFO: "The individuals who are staying there are doing so with a referral from a physician and in coordination with ECDOH. This property is not accessible to the public at this time."

Meanwhile, the basketball gym inside the Burt Flickinger Athletic Center in Buffalo will be reserved, beginning Sunday, for housing individuals who do not have coronavirus and are homeless or otherwise displaced.

During his Friday briefing, Poloncarz also announced the pending formation of a task force to address the economic impact of the pandemic. More details, he explained, were expected to be revealed as early as Monday.