Erie County's COVID-19 numbers continue to get worse and more people are dying: 11 on Saturday. Even so, County Executive Mark Poloncarz told his afternoon briefing Mondday he isn't sure the county or other counties with bad virus numbers are going to go into the Red Zone.
The Red Zone is essentially the kind of lockdown New York State was in during the spring, in the depths of the first wave of the pandemic. Poloncarz said he has had numerous online sessions in recent days with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and staff about what's going on here.
"I can't give you an exact answer to what it all means with regards to 'yes, we're going to be in a Red Zone' or 'no, we're not going to be in a Red Zone' or 'do we stay in an Orange Zone.' I feel very confident it will probably stay in the Orange Zone for the forseeable future, based on the conversations I have had with the governor and his staff and looking at the rates and numbers," Poloncarz said. "They are exceptionally concerned."
He said there are major changes going on in the disease pattern here, with West Seneca leading the county's cities, towns and villages in the number of COVID cases.
"For the most cases in any one week, and that's the Town of West Seneca zip code at 14224," Poloncarz said. "This is not something you want to be leading in. And, also, its new daily cases per 100,000 population on a seven-day average is one of the highest that we see. The three highest communities are West Seneca, Hamburg and Lancaster that have very high rates per 100,000."
He said Buffalo's cases were far and away the worst in the county for much of the pandemic, but they have dropped so much they are roughly equivalent to the city's percentage of Erie County's population.
The pandemic is also grinding down the region's health system. The governor again asked for plans to increase capacity by 50%.
A week ago, there were 79 confirmed COVID cases at Buffalo General Medical Center and 56 at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital. On Monday, there were 83 at General and 80 at Millard.
Across the state, hospital numbers are blowing up and more are expected later this week, seven days after people flew away for Thanksgiving and then came back despite warnings of the risks. Hospitals are now shutting down elective surgeries to make way for COVID cases.
Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said what's elective is complicated.
"They have rectal bleeding and their physician recommends that they get a colonoscopy to check out what's the cause of it. That's not an elective procedure. That's a diagnostic procedure. The person is sick. They have a symptom that could be indicative of a serious problem and so that procedure would need to be done to make a diagnosis and, hopefully, treat it," Burstein said.
This also happened last spring in the depths of the state's lockdown. Elective surgeries were on hold for months.
In a statement, Kaleida Health said it is not clear the rules for elective surgeries, issues like outpatient surgery or work performed in off-site surgery centers. The health care system is waiting for more details from Albany.