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Niagara County has first COVID-19 case as concerns grow about testing capacity


Niagara County has its first resident to test positive for COVID-19 as health officials express concern about their lack of testing capacity.


County officials on Wednesday announced a 42-year-old woman, who lives in the western part of the county and has a compromised immune system, has tested positive and is currently isolated at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center. 


Given the COVID-19 pandemic and the announcement of 13 new cases in Erie County Tuesday, Niagara County Legislature Chairwoman Rebecca Wydysh called their first confirmed case “inevitable.”


“We're called the Buffalo-Niagara region for a reason. So when our neighbors in Erie County confirmed multiple cases, that was really a declaration for a lot all of Western New York,” she told reporters during a press conference, adding officials were already operating under the assumption there were cases in the county.


Dan Stapleton, the county’s director of public health, said it’s believed to be a case of community spread, meaning the woman did not travel out of the area and officials can’t be sure where she was exposed.


“My staff spoke with the patient last night, they spoke with the patient this morning. They're doing contact tracing right now,” he said. “We believe it is community spread.”


According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people living in areas of community spread are at elevated risk of exposure. The CDC expects more instances of community spread in the U.S. in the coming days.


Despite confirming a case, Stapleton expressed frustration about the lack of testing in Niagara County.


The county cannot do its own testing and instead sends samples to the Erie County lab or the New York state lab in Albany. However, the county currently can only collect about six samples per day.


Stapleton said county officials have ordered more than 1,500 test swabs from the New York State Department of Health, but has yet to receive them. 


“Don't get me wrong. People are being swabbed and tested,” he said. “but it's not the level we want it to be.” 


Once the county receives additional swabs, Stapleton said county health department staff can ramp up collecting samples, which will then be tested by not only the Erie County and state labs, but also by private labs and physicians.


“We have a plan in place,” he added. “We need to get those supplies before we can put that plan into action.”


Wydysh said Wednesday will be the last day Niagara County will hold an in-person press conference about COVID-19, due to concerns about the novel coronavirus’ spread and the need for social distancing. 


Erie County has taken similar measures, switching to remote press conferences beginning Wednesday.


“I want this group to disperse,” Wydysh told reporters at the end of Wednesday’s press conference. “Again, it's our intention to not have people together any more than absolutely necessary.”


WGRZ provided audio of Wednesday's press conference to WBFO.