'Today is the worst day yet in Niagara County'

May 6, 2020

Niagara County Legislature Chair Becky Wydysh opened her coronavirus briefing Tuesday with a sad reminder of how many people are dying of COVID-19, calling it "the worst day yet."

"Regretfully, I must report the passing of six of our residents to COVID-19," said Wydysh. "Those six individuals included a 61-year-old female, a 94-year-old female, an 83-year-old female, an 89-year-old male, a 90-year-old male and a 62-year-old male, all with underlying health conditions."

The new fatalities brought the total number of deaths to 34. Wydysh noted the virus has been prevalent a nursing home in Newfane and that town alone has 62 positive cases.

"Today, the state did release data showing that there have been six deaths at that facility from COVID-19," she said. "So our understanding is the state health department is working within that facility in addition, our county, of course, has been sending them test kits and other supplies as they need and we're helping them as much as we can."

The bad news continued.

"We have another 41 new positive COVID-19 cases to report here in Niagara County today," she said. "That is our largest one-day number so far, but, of course, keep in mind that we are having more testing here finally in Niagara County throughout this last week or so, so those increases are not unexpected."

That brings the total number of cases to 570, including 249 active cases, of which 230 people are isolating at home and another 19 are in the hospital. Wydysh said 287 people have recovered from the virus.

She also noted that Western New York is only hitting three of the seven data benchmarks a region must hit to be able to unpause.

"One of those is that we have to have 30 tests for every 1,000 residents," Wydysh said, "so our testing ability has expanded and hopefully we can get to that benchmark in the near future with the continued testing that we're seeing."

Niagara County also said it has reached an agreement with its union, CSEA, on a plan for voluntary temporary layoffs. CSEA represents about 800 county employees.

Anywhere from 10-20% of the county workforce is expected to take part in the layoffs, which will take effect this Friday and continue through July 31. In addition to the unionized county employees, around 40 non-union employees are also part of the layoff plans.

County Manager Rick Updegrove said the agreement includes assurances that the laid-off employees will retain their seniority, leave accruals and healthcare benefits. They will be chosen by the county based on job duties.

Wydysh noted the layoffs are part of a bigger picture plan for Niagara County to preserve what money it does have.

“Our budget outlook with loss of sales revenue [and] cuts in state aid, it’s just not going to be easy,” said Wydysh. “This is going to be a difficult budget year and our Reconfigure Initiative group is really looking at ways now, at our costs, so we can better plan ahead in the future.”