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'We are not out of the woods yet': Coronavirus cases still rising in Erie County

Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein talks about the latest numbers Monday afternoon.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said the continually rising totals of county residents being admitted to hospitals and those dying from the coronavirus mean the crisis locally is far from over.

While many are recovering from the virus, many are not. During his daily briefing Monday, the county executive said another 20 people died from the virus, while the latest count of tested coronavirus cases had topped 2,200 and is continuing to rise.

He said that testing total may not be completely accurate, since Quest has done a lot of testing in recent days and none of those tests are showing up in figures of all testing organizations from Albany. He said that is why it is not time to lift the quarantine, something sought by a protest rally in Buffalo's Niagara Square Monday.

Poloncarz attacked the protestors, especially one unnamed pickup truck driver he termed a "ding-dong."

"People are like, 'Why did you do that?' Well, they had a Confederate battle flag on the back of their vehicle as well as an American flag," he said. "Last time I checked, the Confederates are the ones that were shooting at the Union troops, and I think everyone knows that a Confederate flag is really a flag that is dealing with racial subjugation. It's not a states' rights issue, folks. The Confederate flag is a flag of slavery and a flag of racism."

Some virus-related restrictions are being eased around the state. Poloncarz said it is all up to Gov. Andrew Cuomo who controls the rules.

Poloncarz said Western New York is weeks behind the New York City area in starting the COVID-19 sickness and will end weeks later.

County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said members of the public don't recognize the problems of the local numbers.

"We've reached a plateau and we're okay now. We can pull back on New York Pause. But, actually, these are high numbers and they are consistently high numbers. And you can see that the trend is decreasing a little bit in the past couple of days. So we are not out of the woods," Burstein said. "We are seeing consistently high numbers of people being admitted, people not only to the hospital, but also to the Intensive Care Unit."

Figures released Monday showed there are 120 hospital patients with the virus and 90 of those are in the ICU, a bad stage in the disease because many don't recover.

Credit Facebook
Credit Facebook

Some good news: the county said there are more tests available now.

"We have also expanded the people that are eligible for testing, because as a community we can do more testing," Burstein said. "So now, we are expanding our testing to any symptomatic individual. Regardless of where you work, if you have symptoms consistent with COVID-19 - and I'll go over that right now - you are eligible to get tested."

That is a change, since past protocol was much tighter. The results of that may show up in the new antibody testing, which should show how many people had the virus and were not caught by prior testing levels.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its list of COVID-19 symptoms last week to include:

  • Fever (100.4 degrees or higher)
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

The county said testing and sample collection for symptomatic individuals are by appointment only.  Individuals who do not have a primary care provider may be tested through the county Public Health Lab. Those who have a primary care provider that can provide a referral or prescription for a COVID-19 test may be tested through Kaleida Health.
To be screened and to be scheduled for a test, residents can call the Erie County COVID-19 Information Line at 858-2929 from 8 a.m.-8 p.m.

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.