Erie County has its first evidence of community spread of COVID-19, meaning the new coronavirus is officially being transmitted between county residents and officials can longer be certain how residents were exposed.
The county announced an additional 13 confirmed cases Tuesday, including a county resident in her 50s who did not recently travel out of the area. That means she contracted the virus from someone in the county and not from foreign travel.
“It is what you would consider the prime example of community spread,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz during a news conference, “And, unless we get information that shows otherwise, it indicates that there’s probably someone else out there who has COVID-19 that just hasn't been tested yet.”
“We’re assuming there are enough people in the community who have it who have not been tested yet and that it's being spread,” he added.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, community spread is when people are infected and it is not known how or where they became exposed, and people living in areas of community spread are at elevated risk of exposure.
The CDC expects more instances of community spread in the U.S. in the coming days.
Erie County also has its first hospitalization due to COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. A woman in her 50s, who recently traveled out of state and tested positive, is isolated in a local hospital.
Other new cases announced Tuesday include a male in his 40s and a male in his 30s who both recently traveled out of the state and are isolated at home.
The county announced nine cases Tuesday evening but did not specify whether they recently traveled or whether they’re at home or hospitalized. Those cases include, a female in her late teens, a female in her 20s, a female in her 30s, a female in her 40s, a male in his 50s, a female in her 60s, two males in their 60s, and a female in her 70s.
That brings the county’s total confirmed cases to 20.
The people with the new confirmed cases live across a wide section of the country, including Buffalo, Amherst, Williamsville, Hamburg, Blasdell, Clarence, East Aurora and Holland.
The county also announced several public spaces, including the Walden Galleria mall, where some of those with confirmed cases have been over the last two weeks. Those who were at the announced locations at the announced times are asked to monitor themselves for symptoms.
However, Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein noted that, especially now that there’s community spread, county residents cannot assume they haven’t been exposed just because they do not live in those towns and did not visit those public places.
“Any place that we go where there are a large number of people, (there) are (people) positive with COVID-19,” she said. “We just can't assume that there's any safe place, except if we’re all congregated in our home.”
“Just because your town hasn't been announced, doesn't mean it's not in your town,” Poloncarz added. “We are expecting every county, every town when it’s all said and done to have had cases, and that's why it's best to stay away from others if at all possible.”
The White House recommended Monday that Americans work and do their schooling from home if possible. It also recommends people avoid social gatherings for more than 10 people. New York state on Monday banned gatherings of more than 50 people and closed all bars, restaurants, casinos, movie theaters and gyms.
“Stay home, watch Netflix,” Poloncarz said. “ … Grab the board games with the kids, go outside, throw the football around in your yard.”
Tuesday’s escalation in Erie County came as New York announced an additional 432 COVID-19 cases statewide, bringing the state’s total to 1,374. Monroe County also confirmed its first COVID-19 death Tuesday.
COVID-19 is considered a pandemic by the World Health Organization with about 197,000 confirmed cases and nearly 8,000 deaths worldwide.
Tuesday was the final time Erie County will conduct an in-person press conference about COVID-19 due to concerns about large gatherings contributing to community spread. Beginning Wednesday, county officials will update the media remotely.
“That's why we're trying to avoid having these press conferences because while it's less than 50 (people), it's more than 10,” Poloncarz said.