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Spike in Erie County COVID-19 cases 'extraordinarily concerning'

Local and state leaders, along with infectious disease experts, say Western New York is at a turning point. 'Living room spread' has been cited as a big problem.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — On Friday, in Erie County Yellow Zones, 8.17 percent of tests came back positive, which is 2.17 percent higher than the previous day's rate.

Locally, cases have been on the rise since the end of October.

"The large increase in cases is not due to a large outbreak in a particular workplace or due to a single event or two. It was widespread increased infections across our entire community here in Western New York," said Dr. Thomas Russo, the chief of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo. 

He added, "The magnitude of the increased number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths, I think, has been faster than almost anyone had anticipated and, needless to say, extraordinarily concerning."

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul held a joint news conference Friday with Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, sounding the alarm on the rising cases. 

University at Buffalo doctors, including Dr. Russo, were also in attendance.

One of the themes that came up as a source of the spike is what's called "living room spread."

Dr. Russo explained: "The concept is quite simple. When individuals from different households or different social bubbles gather indoors and are not using masks -- common scenarios would be watching the Bills game, which involves food or drink or having a dinner party -- that is a very risky situation to contract the new coronavirus infection if someone in that group is infected."

Another source mentioned during that news conference was people coming to work or school sick, without realizing it's COVID-19 until those around them have already been infected.

"We've learned over the last several months that the new coronavirus can present with a whole variety of symptoms, anywhere from a runny nose, a headache, a sore throat, a cough, fever, fatigue," Dr. Russo said.

Dr. Russo says Western New York could be at a turning point, sentiments shared in the governor's office.

"As we go forward, I think the numbers are going to get worse. I think the holiday season is going to be a natural accelerant," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on a call with reporters Saturday morning.

However, experts believe we can get the situation under control again, by following COVID-19 precautions, such as wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings.

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