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Erie County leaders continue to urge residents to limit holiday gatherings to only your household

'No one is trying to cancel Thanksgiving, we all understand people want to spend time with their loved ones, these limits are in place to keep you safe.'

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The holiday season is quickly approaching, and Erie County leaders have issued guidance ahead of what is typically considered large family-orientated holidays.

Thanksgiving is less than two week away, and Erie County Mark Poloncarz is stressing that for the holiday, people limit gatherings to only those in your household.

"No one is trying to cancel Thanksgiving, we all understand people want to spend time with their loved ones, these limits are in place to keep you safe," Poloncarz said on Twitter.

Earlier last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued new guidance statewide stating that parties in private homes can have no more than 10 people attend unless the household consists of more than 10 people.

When asked who is going to enforce that new guidance ahead of the holiday season, Poloncarz stated that he hopes people use what is in the best interest of the community and adhere to the guidelines.

And if people don't adhere to the guidelines, Poloncarz said the community has a role in also enforcing the rules, as well as local law enforcement. "Based on what we saw in the past, we expect people to call our hotline," he said.

Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gail Burstein and Poloncarz provided an update into Erie County's battle against COVID-19 on Monday, November 16.

During the update, Poloncarz and Dr. Burstein continued to stress and ask that people limit gatherings to only those in your household for Thanksgiving. Dr. Burstein provided the following data estimates regarding the spread and holiday gatherings:

  • Estimates that if you are at a gathering with 15 people in Erie County, there is a 22% chance that at least one person in that group has COVID-19
  • Estimated that if you are at a gathering with 50 people in Erie County, there is a 56% chance that at least one person in that group has COVID-19

More information, including the Erie County COVID-19 hotline, can be found here.

The county also wants families to treat returning college students like they've been exposed to COVID-19. County leaders are worried about the night before Thanksgiving, which is traditionally a big party night.

"The night before Thanksgiving, the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, is when all the kids return from school. They all go out to the bars to reunite and party, and again, that is going to be a potential super-spreader event. All these people from coming from all these different states, from all these different schools, you know, coming together at close contact at bars, they're not going to have masks probably because they'll be drinking alcohol or going to house parties," says Erie County Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein.

The zip codes with the highest positivity rates are all over the county and not limited to just one area. Contact-tracers are a couple of days behind. There are 40 to 50 of them calling people right now. So, if you've come into contact with someone who tested positive, you're supposed to quarantine. Although the numbers keep going up, the Erie County Executive says the situation is still salvageable. 

"We are advising the public to limit holiday gatherings starting with at least Thanksgiving to only your household. The same advisory was made by Allegany County due to the rapid increases in deaths they saw there. We are advising and recommending the same thing," Poloncarz said.

"Limit your gatherings for Thanksgiving to your immediate family. Do not travel. Don't invite visitors from outside the area for that matter, truthfully, outside your home here. You put them at risk. They put you at risk."

On limiting Thanksgiving dinner, Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard says he doesn't plan to use his Deputies to break up Thanksgiving dinner.

I have no plans to utilize my office’s resources or Deputies to break up the great tradition of Thanksgiving dinner,” Sheriff Howard explains. “This national holiday has created longstanding family traditions that are at the heart of America, and these traditions should not be stopped or interrupted by Governor Cuomo’s mandates. My office will respect the sanctity of your home and traditions, and I encourage you to follow your heart and act responsibly, as well as do what best for your family. On behalf of everyone at the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, I want to wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving," Sheriff Howard said in a statement.

Poloncarz says more ugly shutdowns could be coming if people don't follow the rules and stop the spread.

"When the Yellow Zone was announced, there are some portions in the yellow zone that could have gone to orange and possibly even red. The problem is, it's all over the place. It's not just like one zip code or one neighborhood. As I showed on the screen earlier with regards to the infection rates, we have some very high infection rates across the whole county," Poloncarz said on Thursday.

There's also the possibility that the state could add to the Yellow Zone, or put places directly into Orange or Red Zones. It all depends on the numbers.

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China.