Western New York has inched to the edge of starting to reopen in the COVID-19 crisis. The one unmet criteria is in the control of the five county governments in the region.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul told reporters late Sunday there is only one criterion to be met. That is the requirement to hire enough contact tracers as protection, in case the number of coronavirus cases starts to rise.
"This is a positive day. We're in a far better place than we were just a few short days ago and that's why I said, I applaud Western New Yorkers for doing what we asked them to do," she said. "So those numbers have been met, really, just the last few hours. They are just updated in real time and it gives us a chance to make sure they hold in the near term but also to achieve numbers of contact tracers."
Contact tracers find out about those new COVID-19 cases and trace the contacts of those sick people to ensure they are tested and potentially treated if they are found to be positive for the virus. The goal is to keep that single case from starting a new spiral of illness.
Hochul said those contact tracers are essential
"Make sure that we have contact tracers onsite and those individuals are going to be able out who that person spoke to, who they had been in contact with, where they worked if they're starting to go back to be part of the essential workforce," Hochul said. "It's really important, once we enter this phase and say we can now identify who you have been in contact with."
Counties like Erie and Chautauqua plan to reassign and retrain current county workers for the new tracers. Many are expected to be current county workers who are home being paid without any job assignments. There have to be 521 across the five counties to meet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
Hochul said residents should not ease up as reopening starts.
"Don't think that it's okay to go out and gather with your friends again, without proper social distancing and wearing a mask," she said. "And together we're going to get through this and we're getting much closer. And I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you're doing because we want to make sure that we start getting back, letting people know we're going to get back to some sense of normal before too long. And I just want to say we're going to get there together and do it safely, based on the data, and make sure we get it right."