Erie County’s COVID-19 positivity rate is sitting on a plateau. Officials say the problem appears to be in the workplace, with a failure to follow the rules and stop transmission among co-workers.
The contact tracers who talk to those who test positive for the virus are seeing what looks like some complacency, as the rapidly rising number of vaccinations appears to be cutting into the pandemic. In a briefing Tuesday, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz pointed out there are still hundreds of new cases and a continuing accumulation of deaths.
Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said employers aren’t following the rules.
"Looking at people who are not wearing masks when they are in their cubicles. They are not wearing masks when they are at their workstations. And this is leading to outbreaks in worksites," Burstein said. "Also, please discourage any type of gatherings. Discourage gatherings in the breakroom. You shouldn’t even have a breakroom open or a lunchroom open. They should be closed. So, again, we have to do everything we can to discourage these gatherings."
Contact tracers found one job site where after three weeks of an exposure, 40% of the workers tested positive for COVID. Burstein said the risks extend to customers of this worksite.
Poloncarz also addressed the accusations against one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's closest aides, vaccine czar Larry Schwartz, who has been cited as asking for support of the governor in exchange for vaccine.
The county executive said he has long had dealings with the governor and with Schwartz, and has had many conversations electronically with the vaccine czar, one-on-one. Often they have included requests for more vaccine for use in the county, but Poloncarz said there was never a quid-pro-quo of shots for support.
"At no time during my conversations with Larry Schwartz did I feel intimidated or asked to offer my support for the governor, nevertheless, in exchange for vaccines," he said. "I would hope that after my years in office and the respect I've earned in my dealings through the governor's office they would never think to put me in that situation, nor should they ever put any other of my fellow county executives in such a situation."
Poloncarz also repeated his call for the governor to resign if the state's investigation proves allegations of sexual harassment to be true.