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Erie County officials: COVID-19 trends going in right direction

County officials provided updates on an outbreak tied to a Buffalo church, as well as the local impact of professional and amateur organized sports.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Erie County provided its weekly COVID-19 update on Wednesday, where a variety of topics came into focus.

In terms of numbers, they continue to trend well.

As of August 4, there were 29 COVID-19 hospitalizations in the five-county Western New York Region, which is close to the lowest number (28) ever recorded during the pandemic. 

As well, on the most recent date for which testing data is available, of the 5,925 COVID-19 tests conducted in Erie County, 99.5 percent of those tests came back negative. 

Since the onset of the pandemic, 92 percent of those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Erie County have survived the virus. 

Of the 671 COVID-19 related deaths recorded in the county, 75 percent of those involved persons over the age of 70.

Cases tied to Buffalo church

One week after she announced that a small cluster (fewer than 10 people) associated with the New Zion Baptist Church had tested positive for COVID-19, and five days after the county conducted a pop up testing clinic in the parking lot of the church in Buffalo's Fruit Belt neighborhood, county Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein provided an update of what they found.

"So far we have identified 14 cases that have been associated with that outbreak," said Burstein, who says the number includes those who had previously been diagnosed.

However, as contact tracers continue their work, she also advised, "The investigation is still not over and we may be identifying additional cases."

Of Bills, baseball, and bowling

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz is predicting that if and when the Buffalo Bills take to the field this season, games will at least initially be played without fans in the stands.

As officials in the town of Orchard Park, where the Bills stadiums is located, contemplate whether to allow tailgating at private lots near what would be a presumably empty stadium, Poloncarz said he had yet to discuss the issue with town leaders, but remarked, "There should not be mass tailgating."

As the scheduled debut of the Toronto Blue Jays on August 11 approaches, Poloncarz and Burstein said they were satisfied that measures taken will be sufficient for the games to be played safely.

"If I felt this was a danger to our community, I would have said no," Poloncarz said.

County officials recently were involved in talks with Major League Baseball officials, who say players will basically be quarantined in their hotels when they're not playing at the stadium which will also be devoid of fans.

"We feel confident based on that conversation that we can do this and safely protect our public and at the same time safely protect their players from the public," Poloncarz said.

When it comes to still shuttered bowling centers, hoping to re-open before the usual start of league play ins September, Poloncarz said he has been working with the state to allow bowling alleys to re-open.

"I don't see a reason why bowling leagues can't resume when people are bringing their own balls and shoes," Poloncarz said. "I have been hearing that New York State is working on the protocols for bowling, and hopefully those will be released soon."

County exec uses his bully pulpit to plead aid to municipalities

Poloncarz used part of the weekly update to implore residents of Erie County and beyond to contact their federal representatives and push for aid to local municipalities to be included in the next COVID-19 relief bill from Washington.

"I need the people out there who are watching this to take action," said Poloncarz, noting that virtually all local governments are facing financial woes due to the shutdowns associated with the pandemic, as well the response they've undertaken to combat the virus.

"Let your senators and congresspersons know that local governments are on the front lines of the battle of COVID-19 ... and they need help."