Poloncarz: County won't be ready May 15, but perhaps month's end... with more distancing

May 4, 2020

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz stated Monday afternoon that the county won't be ready to begin the process of reopening May 15, the last scheduled day of the state's NY PAUSE restrictions. However, he suggested there was a chance the county might be ready by the end of the month — if the public continues to honor physical distancing and other disease prevention rules.

Hospitalizations, he announced, were down since his previous news conference on May 1. Use of ICU beds, additionally, were down by about 100 units.

Hospitalization rates in Erie County related to COVID-19, as provided by the Erie County Executive and Erie County Department of Health. County Executive Poloncarz noted that the county must show a continued downward trend for at least two weeks before it may consider reopening.
Credit Office of the Erie County Executive

"We know that this is important data. The governor talked about hospitalization data earlier. We are over the 30% threshold that we need for open hospital beds, as well as ICU beds. We do not want to see the numbers going up," Poloncarz said. "Hospitalization data with regards to new cases is also considered. So it's very important that we see these numbers and this trend line continue to go down that It'll give us a greater opportunity to open up sooner."

What was discouraging to the county executive, meanwhile, were reports of many not adhering to distancing guidelines such as wearing masks while out in public during the weekend, which featured sunny and mild weather.

"What we saw this weekend in some places was not following the PAUSE orders," Poloncarz said. "There were a lot of groups that were breaking the orders, thinking that just this is nothing, 'why should we worry about it?' Go talk to someone who's been sick, talk to an individual who lost a family member, and you'll find out why it's very important to follow this."

Earlier in the day, during his routine COVID-19 briefing, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on local governments and their law enforcers to help enforce PAUSE restrictions. As he explained, it wasn't asking for a favor but rather expecting them to help make sure rules are being followed during a continuing public health emergency.

"Local governments have the ability to enforce and to penalize. That's up to local governments," Cuomo said. "Do I think local governments should be enforcing it and should there be sanctions? Yes."

Prior to Cuomo's Monday briefing, WBFO sought a comment from the Erie County Sheriff's Office regarding enforcement and whether there was a policy in place. A spokesman from the office returned the following written statement: "The Sheriff's Office trusts people will follow the guidelines and we will educate the public, advise the public and, if forced to, disperse crowds."

Poloncarz was asked about local law enforcement's role during his Monday afternoon briefing, following Cuomo's.

"I'm hopeful that local law enforcement will follow, and that includes right here starting in the Erie County with our Sheriff's Office. They've indicated to me they're just waiting for further guidance coming from the state police and whether they should be writing tickets and what other actions should be taken," he said. "I hope that all local law enforcement, from the City of Buffalo, as well as the town and village police forces, do the same. We want to do what's right for our community, which is to protect our community. It may seem like it's more than we ever expected, because it is. You didn't expect to be in this situation six months ago, or here today. We need to protect as many people as possible."