Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein are pleading with the public to scale down Thanksgiving plans as one of many steps to prevent the county's COVID rates from continuing to rise.
Poloncarz and Burstein said COVID case numbers have risen significantly, including a more than 11% positivity rate in one section of Amherst. They're pleading for cooperation by county residents to prevent the county from moving from the state's "yellow zone" into more restrictive "orange" or "red."
Hours before county leaders hosted a COVID update Thursday afternoon, they released information shared by the New York State Department of Health regarding local positivity and hospitalization rates.
"What I want people to understand is it's everywhere," Poloncarz said. "It's in the urban settings. It's in the suburban settings. It's in the rural settings."
The countywide positivity rate over the past two days was above seven percent, he added. The highest recent local positivity rate was recorded within ZIP code 14228 in Amherst, where 75 new cases were reported in a week. Of those, 30 were traced to housing just off the University at Buffalo campus.
Other reported rates include 9.6% in Elma, 8.8% in Springville, 5.9% in the University District, 5.9% in Elmwood Village including the area near Buffalo State College, and 5.5% in North Buffalo.
“We're happy that our hospitals are not inundated but we do know that they are getting a little tighter when they include their elective surgery patients, including a couple of hospitals that have less than 10% occupancy available in their overall beds, though ICU beds are better,” Poloncarz said.
But Dr. Burstein then displayed a model prepared by Dr. Peter Finkelstein at UB’s Jacobs School of Medicine.
“The higher line, the highest slope line, is what we would predict what happens if, you know, people continue to let down their guard. They're going out in large crowds, people not masking, people not physical distancing, people gathering for holiday parties, for Thanksgiving, get-togethers, going out to bars the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving and seeing their friends....That is the slope that we will see in the hospitals and you can see an exponential increase in hospital admissions,” said Burstein of the UB model.
On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a large portion of Erie County to be a microcluster "yellow zone.” He followed two days later by announcing new restrictions including 10 p.m. closing times for restaurants and bars, as well as gyms and workout centers.
Poloncarz said rumors the governor was about to announce Erie County would go into an “orange zone” were false, based on his own conversations with state officials. But he and Burstein are urging the public to keep their guard up, and be prepared to have a scaled-down Thanksgiving holiday, in order to keep the region from being downgraded.
“Stay away from large gatherings. And that could include any type of sporting facilities, it could include any type of parties, and it can include any type of gatherings,” Burstein said. “It can include going out to restaurants or to bars, especially bars. We're seeing, unfortunately, some bars where they're still having too big a crowd. So please, you know, just stay at home. Hunker down. You know, we have to go back to what we were doing in the spring, because that worked. I mean, we know what works and we have to start doing that again.”