Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz is urging citizens to step up and follow the rules to prevent the COVID-19 rate from getting worse than it is.
Poloncarz spoke at a briefing Wednesday, as the number of college students in Western New York who are infected continues to rise. Cases are rising quickly at the University at Buffalo, Buffalo State and Fredonia State. Already, that is showing up at virus test sites.
The county executive is blaming it on off-campus house parties and he urged those students to get tested.
"They have students that traveled from outside the area to live in off-campus housing, you should get tested," he said, "because there's a chance you were exposed to the coronavirus and COVID-19. Because we do know from our contact tracing that students who have tested positive went to get tested because they were sick and a number of them said, 'Yes, I was at house parties.'"
Poloncarz said he has his staff ready if things get really bad.
"If you got vacation coming, you better take if before Labor Day because after Labor Day I have a bad feeling about what could happen in the community, as caseloads go up, as community spread continues," he said, "and thankfully, it appears most of the department heads and senior staff have taken their vacation time in the last couple months when it's been a lot quieter, because I'm fearful that the next few months will not be quieter."
Poloncarz said a significant increase in the cases is likely to reverse the progress made in reopening New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has already put a warning flag up for Western New York and sent a SWAT Team to the region to open rapid testing sites. The county executive said anti-body tests show a lot more people have been infected than earlier tests showed.
Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said her staff of around 50 contact tracers is fully occupied in following cases and, as more cases are expected, more tracers are being hired on contracts.
"People are still traveling to these high-risk states and we're finding positives from that. People are going to bars and restaurants and may not be wearing masks and we're finding people who report that behavior. We're finding just in the past couple of days a lot of college students who are infected and going to these house parties that are not masking," Burstein said.