Erie County's COVID-19 rate is rising sharply and so is the death toll, as the latest tests show a 5% positivity rate and an 80% increase in just the past week.
County Executive Mark Poloncarz, speaking to his weekly briefing Wednesday, said the five counties in the state's Western New York zone are all going up and very ill people are spilling out of the three Southern Tier counties, both into Pennsylvania and up into Erie County because hospitals in those counties are overwhelmed.
Poloncarz summed it up this way.
"We are seeing some of the highest rates of COVID-19 transmission in Erie County in months. We are seeing some of the highest hospitalization numbers in Western New York in months and, unfortunately, this past week or so in Erie County, we saw the highest death rate in months," Poloncarz said. "COVID-19 is not going away. This is not a hoax. This is something that we're going to be dealing with for the forseeable future, at least until we have a vaccine."
Poloncarz said Southern Tier counties initially denied the virus even existed and there are many across Western New York who just aren't paying any attention to the rules of social distancing, masking and hand washing. As long as that's true, he said, there will continue to be a problem -- and it could get worse as winter settles in.
Poloncarz admitted that continued high positivity rates could lead to state cutbacks and a lockdown like last spring and early summer.
There have been complaints for months about COVID-19 in nursing homes. The county has refused to release what info it has. The New York Coalition for Open Government said that information is public.
Poloncarz said the county does sometimes release data when necessary.
"If we believe there is a risk to the general public," he said. "We've talked about it, but we haven't really seen anything that's been a major risk to the general public."
The county executive said the big problem is that Albany hasn't been very forthcoming with data to the county, even about hospitals in the beginning of the pandemic.
"I talked to every one of the hospital leaders and said, 'I need you to provide your data to Erie County directly because we're not always getting it from New York State' early on. Eventually, when enough county executives squacked about it, we started getting the data on hospitals, every day. We don't always get the data on nursing homes or some of the assisted living facilities that they track," Poloncarz said.