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Exclusive: Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz discusses reopening Western New York

The county executive says Western New York will hopefully be able to begin Phase Two by June 2 or June 3, at the earliest.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Following Governor Andrew Cuomo's announcement Monday morning that Western New York will begin Phase One of reopening this week, 2 On Your Side spoke exclusively with Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

Poloncarz stressed that reopening everything at once would not be a good idea. He says many individuals who were not exposed to COVID-19 would be, which would potentially increase the number of hospitalizations. 

Poloncarz says for many people Phase One is not going to seem all that different unless you are working in one of those industries that are reopening. Erie County residents are still required to wear masks when they are in public where social distancing is not possible. This is also true for work environments. 

When asked about social interactions with friends and/or family members, Poloncarz says small gatherings of 10 people or less are probably safe, if proper social distancing guidelines are met. He stressed that people should wear masks and use hand sanitizer to ensure you are as clean and safe as possible.

However, Poloncarz added that now is not the time to have mass gatherings, which is why places of worship have not been approved to re-open just yet.

The County Executive says Western New York will hopefully be able to begin entering Phase Two by June 2 or June 3, at the earliest. Poloncarz says Western New York will need to show the state about two weeks of data for that to happen.

He added that the best way to move into Phase Two sooner is to continue to stop the spread of COVID-19, by continuing to follow social distancing guidelines, and by wearing masks. If the number of hospitalizations goes up, or if the number of deaths increases, it could take longer to enter Phase Two.

Poloncarz says if everything continues to go well, Western New York should hit the final phase, Phase Four in July.

Businesses that are reopening in Phase One are required to follow proper social distancing guidelines and provide masks to their employees. The county executive stressed that businesses that are reopening must have a business plan in place for employees or patrons to review. Poloncarz says businesses that do not have one will be shut down. 

Poloncarz added that any business owners who plan on reopening in Phase Two should start working on their business plan now.

As for sporting events, Poloncarz says it would not surprise him to see professional sports return, but not as we're used to. He says if sporting events do allow fans, it's very doubtful that it will be at full capacity. The county executive says many are waiting to see what will happen to sports leagues that are opening elsewhere.

When discussing Erie County's budget, Poloncarz says the county is facing a $170 million deficit. He says departments in the county have been asked to put together plans with a 13.1 percent reduction. He added that the county is currently putting together a plan to address the deficit and will provide it to the legislature and the public by the first week of June.

Poloncarz says if Erie County does not get federal aid it will be tough, but the county will get through it. However, he did say it wouldn't be pretty, and there would be cuts.

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