Hochul, Burstein urge continued caution as Western New Yorkers head into holiday weekend

May 22, 2020

Both the Erie County Health Commissioner and Lieutenant Governor were delivering messages to enjoy the Memorial Day holiday weekend but with the same careful practices that, they both insist, will help the region continue to curb the COVID spread and advance into further gradual reopening of businesses and institutions.

Erie County reported 178 hospitalizations on Wednesday, a decline from 186 the previous day.

Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein speaks during a YouTube webcast of the county's Friday COVID update.
Credit YouTube/Erie County NY

"This is the biggest low we've had in quite a while in Erie County in our hospitals," said Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein, who hosted Friday afternoon's Erie County pandemic briefing. It's the lowest rate since the start of April.

Earlier this week, Erie County and the other four counties of the Western New York economic region began the first phase of the state's reopening plan. Burstein credits social distancing and wearing of masks in the public and, with the region heading into a holiday weekend, is asking the public to continue honoring those guidelines.

"Everybody is going to want to go outdoors. Everybody's going to want to see everything else. We've all gone stir crazy. I get that. I'm feeling it too," she said. "However, we have to continue to practice these protective behaviors, wearing a mask, staying away from large groups, or we'll be right back where we started from and in phase zero again. We have to keep people healthy."

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, in an interview with WBFO, acknowledged the many events that are being lost this summer to the ongoing pandemic, mentioning the Allentown Art Festival and Taste of Buffalo specifically. She recommended people, as part of the sacrifices they've made by staying home and missing out on favored activities, remember the sacrifices of the lost veterans who are honored on Memorial Day.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul
Credit WBFO file photo

She, too, encouraged people to enjoy themselves but within the same guidelines that have been put in place to prevent further spread of COVID-19. Hochul was asked about the demands of some to reopen the businesses and places of worship immediately and was also asked about comments made Thursday by State Assemblyman David DiPietro, who called concerns for a second wave or coronavirus "the biggest joke I've ever heard."

"The good news for the people of New York State is that the people who are in charge of making the decisions on how we handle the response to the health care crisis, as well as reopening, subscribe to a different philosophy," she answered. "This is not based on emotion. We are basing it on the facts that come out of the Trump Administration, the Centers for Disease Control, which is a federal entity. They are the ones that are warning about a second wave, based on what they're seeing in other parts of the world. They're the ones who put forth the guidelines on what we need to do to protect each other and stop the spread. They're the ones who put forth the recommendations on the phasing."

Hochul added that "there are a lot of people that are counting on us to get it right."

Governor Cuomo, earlier this week, eased restrictions on places of worship, allowing them to reopen on the condition they accommodate no more than ten people at a gathering. Dr. Burstein recommends people wanting to return to a church, synagogue or mosque honor that rule. She noted that if one person among the ten people is infected, the other ten are likely to become infected. One person infected within a group of one hundred, she continued, would cause the others to likely become infected.

The health commissioner suggests just because something is open, one doesn't necessarily need to go there.

"Remember when you were a kid and you know the cookie jar was there. It doesn't mean that you stick your hand in the cookie jar every single time you walk by it," Burstein said. "So again, you know it's personal responsibility, and we all have to take that responsibility to keep ourselves, our family members and our community safe."