Erie County: Data shows rise in COVID-19 cases driven by community spread, not nursing homes

County Executive Mark Poloncarz says local hospitals are preparing for a surge in patients adding peak of latest growth in cases has not been seen yet.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Erie County has now recorded the highest total of hospitalizations in the county and the Western New York region since the pandemic began last spring. 

On Monday, November 23, 316 people were admitted to Western New York hospitals with COVID-19; 264 of them in Erie County. Fifty patients were in the ICU and 27 had an airway assist.

In a Wednesday afternoon briefing, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said hospitals continue to prepare for a surge in patients, adding that it’s expected to be some time yet before a peak in the current rise in cases is reached. Concerns remain about the impact of this latest surge, not only on hospital capacity, but making sure there is enough staff to take care of all of those who are sick.

In response to questions in the community about where the latest cases are coming from, Poloncarz released data that shows the rise in positivity is being driven by community spread and not coming from local nursing homes. Also, as opposed to early on in the pandemic, the bulk of cases now are coming from the suburbs and rural areas, not the city of Buffalo.

Some of the highest rates are in Eden, Irving, Wales, Holland, North Collins, and Lake View — which are all over 9 percent. Erie County has 75 contact-tracers working right now, and there’s a separate staff contacting people to let them know if they test positive.

2 On Your Side’s Kelly Dudzik asked the County Executive if we could get more specific information about where the cases are coming from without revealing personal information.

“When it comes to nursing homes, when they go above a certain data point we will release that,” Poloncarz said. “I think it’s 5 percent of all beds. We’ve been doing that and we just released yesterday, I think, the most recent nursing home data, so that was released yesterday. 

“I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, it’s everywhere. It is everywhere. When I say everywhere, I mean everywhere. Based on the number of cases in our community, there are cases in every town, city, village. If you go into an establishment, a store, and there’s a couple hundred people in there, I guarantee you there’s somebody in there that’s got COVID-19. They may not know it. They may be asymptomatic, or worse, they may be symptomatic and they’re still going out there and shopping, or working. It’s everywhere. Some of the smaller counties, if they get 50 cases a day, it’s a lot easier for them. We had over 600 cases yesterday.”

Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said the county is starting to see the Orange Zone micro cluster designation starting to make a difference, adding the hope that it will soon be further evidenced by a decrease in the number of positive cases and hospitalizations.

Information by zip and areas of the county.

— Mark Poloncarz (@markpoloncarz) November 25, 2020

Poloncarz did have a bit of good news for salons and barbershops currently closed under the Orange Zone designation. He announced that for those businesses that have a retail component with product to sell, such as shampoo and other products, that is allowed. 

The County Executive was asked why the state hasn’t moved any part of Erie County into a Red Zone and whether it has to do with Black Friday.

“I don’t think this is based on the economics, I think this is based solely on the public health aspect of it,” Poloncarz said. “One of the things that we noticed as a result of looking at the data on a zip code basis, is that some of the biggest areas of concern just a month ago, like parts of the City of Buffalo 14215, 14206, 14207, have some of the lower infection rates per 100,000 now. 

“So, the information that we were getting out to the public, we have to reduce these numbers in these zip codes seemed to have worked. Unfortunately, now it’s in other parts of the county. So, we have seen in a good portion of Erie County growth, there’s no doubt about it. We’re really interested to see that the City of Buffalo residents seem to be doing better than the residents out of the City of Buffalo which is completely opposite what it was for a good portion of the year.”

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