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WNY region battles increasing COVID-19 rate; Cuomo announces new testing sites

A spokesperson for the ECDOH says, "Erie County is experiencing an increase in community transmission of COVID-19, and we know how to stop the spread."

BUFFALO, N.Y. — With a steady increase of COVID-19 cases in the Western New York region, New York State health officials are setting up testing facilities in our area.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the caution flag in Western New York will be raised a little higher after the region's COVID-19 positive rate was at 2 percent for August 26.  

Governor Cuomo said the state will deploy a "SWAT team" from the department of health and open eight testing sites, including three in the City of Buffalo.

The governor also said that colleges in the state that report 100 coronavirus cases, or a number of cases equal to 5 percent of the student population, will have to go to remote learning for two weeks then re-evaluate. This announcement by the governor is in anticipation of clusters on campuses across the state.

Both announcements came on Thursday.

So what do the governor's comments mean for you? 

2 On Your Side reached out to Dr. Gale Burstein, the commissioner of the Erie County Department of Health, for more information on how the situation in Western New York got to this point.

 A spokesperson with her office responded with this statement:

"Erie County is experiencing an increase in community transmission of COVID-19, and we know how to stop the spread: wearing masks properly; frequent handwashing; disinfection of frequently touched surfaces; avoiding large gatherings and travel to areas of the country with high rates of community transmission; and, staying home from school, work and other activities when ill. We need to keep these practices going. And as children and college students get back to school, we can encourage them to practice those behaviors as well."

Then, there's the question of where these cases are coming from. The spokesperson with the health department said the increase is not attributable to any single source. That echoes what Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said on the topic in a news conference Wednesday.

Poloncarz said, "There really aren't any large clusters. It's just cases all across Erie County. There are some family clusters. There are some cases in nursing homes. There's some cases in smaller numbers in businesses, but what we're finding out is the vast majority of cases are just individuals from across the county who may not be able to identify where they caught it from and that's community spread."

As for what happens if we continue to see an increase in community transmission, Governor Cuomo told reporters Thursday the new rapid testing sites will help provide more information to the state.

"We'll have a snapshot of exactly what is happening and depending on what we see, we'll act accordingly. There's no hard number that we have that goes from a yellow flag to a red flag," Cuomo said. 

We also asked Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul about this, since she has been leading Western New York's reopening effort. 

A spokesperson with her office said in a statement:

"The lieutenant governor doesn’t have much more to add from what the governor said on his conference call earlier today. Lieutenant Governor Hochul continues to work in tandem with the governor, DOH, and the regional control room to assess the situation in real-time. We’re continuing to gather data and facts on WNY’s current transmission, while continuing to deploy as many state resources as possible as we continue to test, trace, and isolate these incidents as they’re happening."

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