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What goes into making 'zone' determinations in New York COVID-19 hot spots

During a news conference on Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo warned that parts of Erie County are on track to be upgraded from an Orange Zone to a Red Zone.

ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. — With rising COVID-19 numbers across Western New York and much of Erie County in the Orange Zone, there are still many questions over if and when a possible Red Zone designation could come.  

During a news conference on Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo warned that parts of Erie County are on track to be upgraded from an Orange Zone to a Red Zone.

During a 2 On Your Side Town Hall last week, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz explained the process with the state to determine if zones should be modified. 

"What's happening is we're taking the case data on a week by week basis basically a Tuesday through Monday, and then we'll start analyzing it on Monday night, review in-depth on Tuesday and then a decision will be made on Wednesday as to whether or not there should be changes to the zones. Our goal is to avoid the Red," Poloncarz said. 

Here are the stipulations of a Red Zone designation:

Red Zone:

  • Houses of worship operate at 25% capacity or 10 people maximum
  • Gatherings are prohibited
  • Only essential business can be open
  • Restaurants can only offer takeout
  • Schools are closed and shift to remote learning

We asked a spokesperson with Erie County if it's likely that we will hear an update Wednesday when it comes to the zones in Western New York.

He said if the governor has his usual morning announcement, "He may indicate a new zone, or he may not, but we have no knowledge of that right now."

In making that determination, the state looks at factors including positivity rates, hospitalizations and the daily rolling average of cases.

The county spokesperson added that while county officials are in these discussions, any final decisions on status changes come from Albany.

Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul released the following statement to 2 On Your Side:

"Erie County is still vulnerable and any step forward or backward will be determined by our actions over the next couple of days and through the holiday season. This virus does not take a day off because of a holiday - don't let it be the uninvited guest at your Thanksgiving table this year. Spread thanks, not COVID, and show respect to your fellow Western New Yorkers, essential workers, and our local small business community by wearing a mask and limiting gatherings. In addition, purchase gift cards, and try supporting Western New York businesses online this year if you're able so that we continue to help them make it through these tough times."

A spokesperson with Hochul's office added that if the numbers keep rising, it could lead to a Red Zone. However, the situation is evolving day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. At this point, officials say no decision has been made.

Either way, the Erie County Executive and health commissioner will be holding their regular briefing Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. and will be able to break down any changes that may or may not come regarding zones.