Three test positive for Coronavirus in Erie County

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz
Photo credit Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz detailing local confirmed Coronavirus cases - WBEN Photo Brendan Keany

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) – Erie County is under a state of emergency after three confirmed cases of coronavirus were announced by county officials late-Friday.

The state of emergency began at noon on Saturday and will continue indefinitely.

The three reported cases include a woman in the 30s from Buffalo, who traveled out of state and came in contact with someone who had the virus. A Clarence man in his 30s contracted the virus after he recently traveled to Westchester County and a Grand Island woman in her 20s who recently traveled to Italy has tested positive.

Officials said those three stayed in their own homes since they arrived back to Erie County. None of them were hospitalized.

Erie County Department of Health are now investigating those three people to determine who they came in contact with. Once identified, those close contacts will be notified of their potential exposure to coronavirus and placed under mandatory quarantine.

Poloncarz tweeted updated testing guidelines on Sunday afternoon.

CORONAVIRUS RESOURCE LINKS

Erie County Department of Health

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

World Health Organization

New York State Department of Health

Erie County has set up an information line for residents to call with questions about coronavirus. That number is (716) 858-2929.

Schools in Erie County are closed Monday

Under the state of emergency, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said all schools in Erie County will be closed on Monday for students. Teachers and administrators are asked to report as requested by their respective districts. Poloncarz said further discussions will be made through Monday night to determine the next course of action for local schools.

READ MORE: Buffalo Public Schools closed Monday to students but reopens Tuesday

Poloncarz stressed that there are negative consequences to closing a school indefinitely aside from losing out on education.

"(Health leaders at area hospitals) are very worried about the lack and loss of employees due to a grand closure of school because parents want to take care of their children," Poloncarz said. "...If it's an extended closure, if we don't have an ability to put in place measures to ensure we have adequate staff for health care and public safety, we will be seriously impacted. One president of a hospital unit thought it was possible they could lose up to 20 percent of their staff."

Several school districts in Erie County announced an indefinite closure shortly after Poloncarz' news conference, including Clarence, Lancaster, and Grand Island schools. Grand Island schools said their staff and faculty are expected to report.

"I would not be surprised to see extended closures but we want to have those conversations before I order an indefinite closure," Poloncarz said. "Some other communities have done that but we want to do what's right for the greater community: Protecting our children and protecting the public's health, but making sure we have adequate staff of public health care workers in our county, health care workers in our hospital and other units, because we have a very large health care organization in our community and we want to ensure everything is done properly going forward."

Day cares

Day cares follow New York State regulations. With schools closing, day cares will be busy to keep up with the demand while parents work.

Child care services in New York were told by the state last Wednesday that if they need to close for issues related to coronavirus, they need to immediately contact their regional office. If a parent is under a mandatory quarantined, they cannot enter the childcare program for any reason, including to pick up their child. Instead, an emergency contact authorized by the parent will come to pick up the child. If a parent is under a precautionary quarantine, childcare staff will walk out to deliver the child to the parent outside of the building, but the child cannot return to the program for the duration of the quarantine.

Burstein said they are advising day care facilities to follow proper hygiene while Poloncarz noted that one local police department shared concerns that they could lose one-third of their staff because they would have to stay home with their kids.

Poloncarz "hot" over packed bars in Buffalo

Despite multiple warnings and Poloncarz' request to cut in half the occupancy at an establishment because of the effect it could have in the spread of the virus, multiple social media posts showed that there were large gatherings at bars, especially on Chippewa Street in Buffalo.

"I was really hot," Poloncarz said. "It was disappointing. People were partying. I saw someone wearing a shirt that said 'Coronavirus can...Kiss My you-know-what.' They're taking this far too lightly. We don't want to be Italy. We don't want to be Wuhan, China. We dont' want to be in that situation. I don't want the governor and New York State to create a containment zone like they did in New Rochelle. If that's the case, we dropped the ball."

Poloncarz said he doesn't want to get to the point where he bans people from visiting establishments. He said that bars who defy the occupancy limits in New York State run the risk of losing their state liquor license.

"I would not want to go down that road arguing about why you need to keep your liquor license," Poloncarz said. "To the bars and establishments out there, the standard is half. If you're authorized for 100 you can have 50. It's as simple as that."

Funding request in Erie County

Poloncarz requested the Erie County Legislature to transfer $5 million from the 2019 surplus to address the virus. Poloncarz said this money will allow the county to make appropriate purchases as necessary.

Burstein said she hopes the money will be used to hire more epidemiologists, clerks, and public educators in their offices.

The legislature will meet on Thursday.

Do you think you have coronavirus?

Health officials have stressed that anyone who feels they may have coronavirus should not visit an emergency room or urgent care out of concern they will spread the virus. Instead, they recommend contacting your primary care provider first by phone.

"(Your primary care physician) can give you advice on how to manage those symptoms at home just like the flu and other respiratory illnesses," Erie County Health Commissioner Gale Burstein said. "If they feel that their patient meets the criteria for testing, they will call the Erie County Health Department and discuss the case with us. We'll decide together whether to authorize that person to have a test. We will then contact that individual and give them instructions on where to go to collect specimens."

The Town of Amherst has declared a state of emergency.  

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown released a statement late Saturday following the disclosure of the three Erie County cases:

"We have been planning and preparing for this eventuality. Government has been working together at every level to ensure that we deal with this public health emergency with calm, cooperation and a spirit of community. I ask that everyone follow the Department of Health recommendations to help contain the spread of Coronavirus, and we will do our best to provide everyone with any assistance or information that they need as this situation continues to unfold."

Governor Andrew Cuomo confirmed the Erie County cases in a late Saturday call and earlier had said he believes thousands of New Yorkers — perhaps tens of thousands — already have the disease. The true number of people with the virus in the state is unknown because testing is still being done across the U.S. on a very limited basis.

“It has already spread much more than you know,” Cuomo said on a conference call with reporters. "The infection rate will be massive.”

The virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

Cuomo also signed an executive order Saturday modifying certain election procedures, including suspending the candidate petitioning process for the June primaries.