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Erie County suffers reopening setback in hospitalization numbers

Office of Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz

After showing a two-week downward trend in COVID hospitalizations, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz announced a disappointing uptick Wednesday. The reversal rules out the possibility of Erie County and its four fellow counties within the state's Western New York Economic Region from entering phase one of reopening when New York's PAUSE order is lifted Friday.

"On May 11 there were 203 individuals that were admitted to an Erie County Hospital for COVID-19. This is an increase since a May 8 low of 188," Poloncarz reported during his Wednesday afternoon briefing. "There were 72 in the ICU units on that date, May 11, and 49 of them had an airway assist."

The county executive raised an additional COVID concern. He reported that doctors at Jericho Road Community Health Center in Buffalo are identifying infection rates among the Burmese and Karen communities to be at a higher rate than seen in the general public.

Poloncarz announced that, in light of the latest hospitalization trend, he was informed by Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul that the region will not be ready to begin reopening the county on Friday, when other parts of the state will.

Erie County is one of five counties making up the state's Western New York economic region, as defined among Empire State Development's ten regions. As of Wednesday, Western New York had met five of the seven metrics required for the state to deem it ready for entering phase one of reopening the economy.

The other four counties included within the region - Niagara, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany - are now included among the list of counties statewide that may resume elective surgeries. Erie County remains off that list. Earlier in the day, during a conference call hosted by the New York State Association of Counties, Chautauqua County Executive P.J. Wendell suggested that his county, individually, was meeting all seven metrics needed to start reopening the economy.

Poloncarz was asked if Erie County was appearing to be the lone holdout in meeting the benchmarks. He replied he had not seen the statistics from Niagara or Cattaraugus Counties. But he also stated that those being treated in Erie County hospitals are not necessarily Erie County residents alone.

"We have seen individuals in our hospitals in Erie County that live in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus County, so I can't say," Poloncarz answered. "Bertrand Chafee Hospital in Springville gets a lot of patients from from Cattaraugus County. So while we have hospitalization numbers that are higher here, it doesn't necessarily mean that every patient is an Erie County resident. Millard Fillmore Suburban often gets patients from just across the (Niagara County) line."

The county executive also announced Wednesday that Erie County Medical Center, with $2.3 million provided by the Millennium Collective, will support 27 test sites in 15 priority ZIP codes throughout Western New York. The municipalties include Buffalo, Amherst, Williamsville, Dunkirk, Jamestown, North Tonawanda, Niagara Falls and Lockport.

Specific locations offering testing include the Rapha Family Wellness Center, Jericho Road, Neighborhood Health Center, ECMC Family Health Center, Kaleida Health, Evergreen Health, Urban Family Practice, and Community Health Center of Buffalo. Individuals interested in getting tested are urged to call the specific provider to set up an appointment.

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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