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Erie County count rises to 36; Mayor Brown orders partial park shutdown

Facebook/County Executive Mark Poloncarz

More positive test results were confirmed Friday afternoon in Erie County, as health officials and the county executive again expressed frustration over a lack of available testing kits. Meanwhile, after stating he had heard reports of groups congregating in city parks in violation of coronavirus prevention guidelines, Mayor Byron Brown announced a shutdown of certain facilities on Buffalo park grounds.

Five more positive tests were reported to the Erie County Health Department just hours after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a total of 31 cases. The newest cases, bringing Erie County's known total up to 36 by late Friday afternoon, were said to have been confirmed through tests conducted by a private lab.

"We don't have the town data just yet. These were confirmations that we received from Quest labs, the positive tests that were performed," said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. "Our epidemiologists right now are going through and contacting those individuals for more information, including the specifics of what city and town they live in."

As of Friday afternoon, 252 individuals were in quarantine while 163 people had completed quarantine. The county executive suggested people assume the virus is everywhere, not just in towns or villages where positive test results have been reported.

Poloncarz was joined by Erie County Health Commissioner Gale Burstein. They introduced a new interactive online map focusing on case numbers in Erie County and its towns (erie.gov/covidmap). 

They also repeated their concerns for a very limited supply of test kits and supplies at the Erie County Public Health Lab.

"The problem is that with our testing reagent, after the specimens that were collected today, we only have about enough reagent to conduct approximately 15 new tests," Dr. Burstein said.

The county executive noted that, for those seeking exercise within social distancing guidelines, county parks remain open. But he mentioned during the Friday briefing that most seemed to be congregating at just one park, Chestnut Ridge Park. He stated while park staff clean facilities thoroughly daily, patrons should - in addition to practicing safe distancing - use their own sanitizers when using restrooms or equipment.

In the City of Buffalo, meanwhile, Mayor Byron Brown says due to reports of large groups of people meeting in parks to play sports or use playgrounds, he has ordered playgrounds, courts and sports fields closed until further notice.

"The parks do remain open for passive use. However, even passive park users should maintain a distance of six feet between themselves and others," Brown said.

Also announced by the mayor Friday was the temporary suspension of the Buffalo Employment and Training Center's employment hotline, in response to the latest workforce mandates announced earlier in the day by Governor Cuomo. He also advised business owners that the state's application for eligibility in the Small Business Administration's Disaster Loan Program had been accepted.

The city has also moved to make on-street and civic ramp parking free of charge until further notice.

Brown also encouraged residents to check up on more vulnerable neighbors, including the elderly, disabled, or otherwise homebound individuals.

"If you cannot get in touch with someone who is vulnerable or sick, please call 911 and request the Buffalo Police Department perform a welfare check," the mayor said. "Never open your door to anyone you don't know. Always talk to your neighbor through the closed door or from a window to help prevent the spread of the virus."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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