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Erie County slowly reopening: elective surgeries, outdoor dining allowed to resume

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He joked about finally being to able to get a haircut during his Wednesday afternoon COVID briefing, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz also spoke about other elements of daily life being allowed to resume.

Shortly before his briefing was scheduled to begin, the word came from Governor Andrew Cuomo's office and was tweeted by Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul: elective surgeries and ambulatory services were allowed again in the county.

Poloncarz said he had pushed for those services for some time.

"It was about time that it happened. We've seen our hospitalization numbers go down. In COVID cases, we've seen other hospitals do elective surgeries, our ICU numbers are still very good. More than 50 percent capacity," he said. "There was no reason to prevent somebody from getting a colonoscopy at a non-hospital setting, because they may need it, especially if they haven't had had a chance to have one for the last three months. So I'm very glad that that has been allowed by the New York State Department of Health and I thank the governor for pushing that along."

Also allowed to resume, beginning Thursday, is outdoor dining at restaurants. The county executive, when asked whether restaurants that haven't had outdoor seating might be able to get waivers to do so, noted that establishments interested in outdoor seating must get permission from the municipality in which it operates.

"The vast majority of that is actually handled by the towns or the cities with regards to permits for outdoor seating.  The county would provide a health permit," Poloncarz said. "It generally does not provide permits for outdoor activity. That is usually the town or city that does it. If there are issues that need to be approved through the Department of Health, we'll be looking at that."

Due to a continuing nightly curfew within the City of Buffalo, restaurants will have to stop outdoor service by 8 p.m.  In addition to Buffalo, the Town of Cheektowaga was imposing its own curfew fom 8 p.m. until 5 a.m. But Poloncarz announced that there would be no countywide curfew Wednesday evening, following conversations with local law enforcement leaders.

"We don't put a curfew in just because we're fearful that something would happen if we don't have any information to indicate it's a possibility," he said.. "We also realize when you put a curfew in, you're hurting businesses. A pizzeria that normally would sell pizzas to like 10 or 11 at night really can't do it. So we're a little worried about that aspect."

Acknowledging the daytime peaceful protests that continue in response to the death of George Floyd by a former Minnesota police officer, Poloncarz credited the majority of its participants for wearing masks on the scene.

But he also recommends they get tested for COVID.

"The PCR test, the diagnostic tests, six percent or so of the tests recently are coming up positive," Poloncarz said. "So, if you have 1,000 people in a crowd, if you tested them, the odds are 60 may actually have COVID at that time.

"Yesterday, I stopped off at the one protest. I was wearing a mask. I wouldn't shake hands with people. I was giving them the elbow bump or the Spock 'live long and prosper' (hand gesture). I think that might be the way to do it from now on, rather than handshakes. You might want to consider getting a test if you've been at every one of these protests. You might want to consider getting a test, and the test is available and it's free through the Erie County Department of Health at a 858-2929."

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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