Niagara County leaders, during their Monday afternoon COVID-19 briefing, offered some positive numbers including no weekend fatalities and a drop in the rate of positive test results coming back. It is raising cautious optimism that certain segments of the county's economy are ready to go, once the Western New York region gets the go-ahead to begin the first phase of economic reopening.
According to the Niagara County Health Department, 26 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed since the previous Friday. Of the 297 people who were active cases, 16 were hospitalized while the remainder were recovering at home. No new fatalities were reported since Friday, a relief for health officials who had reported 17 COVID-related deaths last week.
There was another promising trend. Legislature Chair Becky Wydysh, who has hosted the daily COVID briefings on Lockport Community Television, said the county increased its testing the previous week by 2,000 people. The positive test results had experienced a drop from an earlier 17 percent to 12 percent.
"Today the governor mentioned on his briefing that deaths across New York State dropped to 161, a much lower number than we've been hearing all along. New hospitalizations also fell to 488 from yesterday," Wydysh said. "So, these numbers basically take us back to where we started in mid March, which is good news to hear. But it brings us to the question of when will New York be able to unpause."
Cuomo announced that three of the states ten economic regions - Finger Lakes, Southern Tier and Mohawk Valley — are ready to roll out with phase one of reopening upon the conclusion of New York PAUSE Friday. Niagara County is one of five counties within the Western New York economic region, along with Erie, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany Counties. As of Monday, the collective region had met five of seven benchmarks needed to qualify for the start of reopening.
Stapleton, though, stated his confidence that for its part, Niagara County has segments of its local economy that are ready to go.
"I think business owners know the steps they need to take to ensure that their staff is safe and their customers are safe," he said. "We look at the things that are outside, whether it's landscaping, construction, all those things, done the right way, can be done safely. There's some inside things that can also be done, as long as you do it the right way. It's in the best interest of business owners to make sure that their staff are safe, to make sure that their customers are safe, and they're not going to do something that puts those people at risk. I think we don't want to open up everything with the flick of the switch and think that everything's gonna be fine. But there are definitely things we can all do, and businesses that can open, make people's lives easier and get people back to work."
Wydysh noted that last week the Western New York region hit only three of the seven required metrics. While she welcomed an improvement to five metrics, she also reminded the viewing audience that reopenings will not happen county by county. Wydysh noted she is in frequent contact with counterparts from the other counties within the Western New York region and is also one of Niagara's representatives on the "control room" panel that will monitor reopening and health trends.
"There are going to be many changes in the next coming weeks. We don't know exactly what that official reopening date for phase one will be for Niagara County just yet. We do know based on the governor's briefing today, that we are not one of the regions that currently meets those metrics, so please again understand that May 15 is not a date where we will simply flip the switch, if you will, and fire everything back up all at once," she said. "We will be giving much input regarding our region and, of course, our county to that regional group as we move forward, working closely with Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul."
Last week, county officials announced they had reached out to the state asking for intervention at a Newfane nursing home where a COVID hotspot was emerging. Stapleton reported Monday that the state health department's Western Region sent a team of nurses to investigate the facility the previous Friday.
"They went over infectious disease control. Meaning, are you isolating patients who are positive, residents who are positive, from residents that are negative?" he explained. "Are they sharing restrooms, which they shouldn't, those types of things. They came in on Friday and did that, and then on Saturday came in and started testing the residents and the staff."