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As WNY reopens, leaders say getting to next step depends on continued respect of rules

Chautauqua County
Chautauqua County holds press conference Tuesday.

The five counties of the state's Western New York economic region are in the first day of opening under Phase One. Leaders, eager to ensure their respective counties continue on a path toward gradual reopening of more businesses and institutions, are urging the public to continue following guidelines in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Construction, manufacturing, agriculture, forestry, hunting, wholesale supply chain and limited retail with curbside pickup are allowed to resume operations, provided they have a plan to practice distancing and other virus prevention measures.

Businesses are required to prepare and post a plan before they are allowed to open. Templates and guidelines for those plans are available at Forward.NY.gov. It does not need state approval but mkust be posted on the worksite for review by employees or others who wish to inspect it on the spot.

"The summary guidelines is really guidance from OSHA, and the CDC, basically pertains to all of the all of the sectors," said Mark Geise, who serves as Chautauqua County's Deputy County Executive for Economic Development and chief executive officer of the county's Industrial Development Agency. "It's broken down by physical distancing protective equipment hygiene and cleaning communications and screening and testing."

Chautauqua County leaders hosted a news conference Tuesday morning, providing details to business owners about the steps needed to reopen. They also acknowledged the eagerness to reopen more businesses scheduled for future phases, including hair salons.

"If we stop social distancing and violate the phase one restrictions, our numbers could increase and put us to a point of a backslide or a delay in opening further phases. I want to remind everybody social distancing and face coverings and other measures are not here to just protect ourselves and our families, but our communities as well," said County Executive P.J. Wendel. "The last thing we want to have happen is for the next phases to be delayed."

Christine Schulyler, the county's Director of Health and Human Services, offered a message of caution when discussing testing and reopening.

"As of last night we have 53 confirmed cases. There was an increase I think everyone saw over the weekend," she said. "I've received several questions about that, with seven new cases over the weekend. And I can tell you that is a reflection of people who are starting to gather prematurely, and not abiding by our social distancing recommendations and requirements. So right there is a testament of how we really still need to be vigilant."

COVID testing is available, officials say, at numerous locations: UPMC Chautauqua in Jamestown, Chautauqua Center locations in Jamestown and Dunkirk, Westfield Memorial Hospital and WellNow facilities in Dunkirk, Jamestown and Lakewood. Antibody testing is also available at those locations.

"So far, I can tell you we're only seeing a two- to three-percent positive rate in the antibody tests," Schuyler said. "While there's not anything scientific to this yet, we really don't really have enough data to say that, but to have that many people not showing antibodies makes us think that, really, COVID-19 has not been widely spread in our area. So it's another reason why we think we will probably see increased rates of infection."

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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