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Phase 3 reopening of Erie County may begin as soon as Tuesday

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Mike Desmond
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WBFO News

Erie County is continuing to see the gradual slide downwards in COVID-19 cases and deaths, and may have emerged unscathed from people over Memorial Day weekend who shed social distancing rules for sun and heat. County Executive Mark Poloncarz said this means the county is continuing on a path to a Phase Three re-opening, which would allow indoor operations in bars and restaurants, potentially as early as Tuesday.

Speaking to his coronavirus briefing Monday, Poloncarz said the numbers tell the story.

"On June 6, there were 103 individuals admitted to Erie County hospitals for COVID-19. This is the lowest amount we have had since the end of March," he said. "So we continue to head downwards and this is nice because this is approximately after Memorial Day weekend. So we are not seeing this big spike as a result of Memorial Day weekend with regards to COVID-19 hospitalizations as well as cases."

Poloncarz said there are still COVID-19 patients in area ICUs and some still on ventilators.  He said the halls of the Rath Building are also a little empty, as the county gradually brings workers back to the building from working at home or not working because of the lockdown.

The building has never been completely empty. Offices like his, Public Works and some others have continued to operate. Often, that has been with reduced staff. Now, it is opening with special cleaning programs, desks moved apart and lots of concerns about how to operate with a reduced staff.

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Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
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WBFO News
Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein reminds returning workers and the public that face masks are still required.

"These individuals who come in here with the anti-viral sprays and they spray every door knob, which is a lot. There's a lot of doorknobs in the Rath Building. You don't think about how many doors there are until you have to have individuals come in and spray every one," he said. "So they ensure that if it was touched during the day, it has the anti-viral spray that's recommended by the CDC."

Poloncarz said moving forward will be very complicated, since you cannot get as many workers into the same space to meet social distancing rules, while there have to be precautions to ensure workers are putting in their full shifts, even working at home. The ID card system in the Rath Building does not extend to worker homes.

Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said the rules will help keep down cases as the county reopens.

"People are out. The question is, How can we reduce our risk of exposure and infection when we are going out? And the answer is face masks," Burstein said. "Face masks are very, very, very powerful harm-reduction tools that we can all use to reduce our risk of getting infected with COVID-19 when we are out."

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Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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