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Cuomo: Buffalo area going from Yellow to Orange Zone; part of Niagara County to Yellow Zone

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz says the new restrictions go into effect Friday for non-essential businesses and Monday for schools.

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo provided an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Western New York. He says Western New York currently has the worst COVID-19 positivity rate in the state. 

And because of that, Buffalo and the surrounding areas in Erie County are going from a Yellow Zone to an Orange Zone. A portion of Niagara County has also been added as a Yellow Zone.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz says the new restrictions go into effect Friday for non-essential businesses and Monday for schools.

This announcement comes as positive cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in the Western New York region, specifically in Erie County, and hospitalizations have more than doubled in the past week. 

"We are all very concerned about what we are seeing, we are seeing a rapid growth in cases, rapid growth in hospitalizations, and now we are starting to see a rapid growth in deaths," Poloncarz said.

In an Orange Zone the following takes place:

  • Non-Residential Gatherings: 10 people maximum, indoors and outdoors
  • Houses of Worship: 33% capacity or 25 people maximum
  • Mass gatherings: 10 people maximum, indoors and outdoors
  • Businesses: Certain high-risk non-essential businesses (eg., gyms, fitness centers and classes, barber shops, hair salons, personal care services) are closed
  • Dining: Outdoor dining, takeout or delivery only, four person maximum per table, and bars and restaurants close at 10 p.m. for on-premises consumption
  • Schools: full remote learning unless a district chooses to test out 

"There is what we call a test out option, schools close in an orange zone but schools can reopen if they close for 4 days they clean and they test people who come back," Cuomo said.

Cuomo said the positivity rate in Western New York is higher than anywhere else in the state. According to the latest state data, these are currently the highest rates in Western New York:

  • Hamburg 9.78%
  • Lancaster 9.42%
  • Orchard Park 7.51%
  • Buffalo 7.30%
  • Tonawanda 6.84%

The governor said in his personal opinion Western New York, "Hasn't lived the full pain of COVID's wrath." 

The governor went on to say, "Western New York read about New York City, they read about Long Island, they watched it on the TV news, but the numbers were never as bad in Western New York, and you want people to change dramatically their behavior, for me to make these dramatic changes in behavior I have to believe this is real. And, it wasn't real because it wasn't real to me. You know when it becomes real? When it's real to me."

"I get it was real in New York City, but I'm in Buffalo. Buffalo is much different than New York City, and it wasn't real to me. Like South Dakota. I believe that. I believe they didn't have the same level of fear. And, what caused so many people in New York to change their behavior? It was the fear. Why do you guys wear the masks now? Oh, because you said we have to. There's a law that says, no, you wear the masks because you're afraid of COVID and because you're concerned about other people, but because you think it's real. Because it is real for you. Western New York never felt that same level of reality."

He added, also in his opinion that, after Thanksgiving he expects there will be a tremendous spike in cases.

"And you see people saying, nobody's gonna stop me from coming together," Cuomo said. "That's my family. You can't tell me don't socialize with my family. It's gonna happen. It is going to happen. And, it's gonna happen because it's human behavior."

The governor also talked about how Canada had numbers go way up after Canadian Thanksgiving and he warns that will happen here. 

"This is a very serious, significant problem in Erie County," Poloncarz said on Tuesday. "There is not a single town or city in Erie County that doesn't have an infection rate under 3 percent."

Dr. Thomas Russo, one of Western New York's leading infectious disease experts, told 2 On Your Side's Kelly Dudzik Wednesday that a lot of Erie County actually qualifies for Red Zone status, but the governor just went Orange for now.

You can watch the full press conference with Governor Cuomo below:

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