As highly anticipated, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that portions of Erie County that were previously under COVID yellow zone status have been elevated to orange, while the remaining portions of the county have now entered the lowest-level color code.
The governor opened his briefing by praising New York State as a whole for keeping its infection rate among the lowest in the nation at 2.88%. But he then pointed to the five-county Western New York economic region and its positivity rate of 5.1%, called it the worst among regions.
And with that, he confirmed that areas which had already been deemed a "yellow zone" would now move into a stricter "orange zone." This includes Amherst, Aurora, Buffalo, Cheektowaga, Clarence, Eden, Elma, Evans, Grand Island, Hamburg, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Orchard Park, Tonawanda and West Seneca.
The remaining portions of Erie County enter yellow status. So, too, does North Tonawanda in Niagara County.
The governor theorized that Western New Yorkers perhaps didn't take the coronavirus as seriously while numbers were much higher in the Metro New York City area.
"If you socially distanced and you wore a mask and you were smart, none of this would be a problem," Cuomo said. "It's all self imposed. If you didn't eat the cheesecake, you wouldn't have a weight problem. It's all self imposed."
The color-code restrictions imposed on certain businesses take effect Friday. Under orange zone restrictions, restaurants may allow takeout and outdoor dining only, with no more than four people seated at a table. Houses of worship must further lower their congregations to 33% capacity or 25 people, whichever is lower.
Businesses deemed by the state to be "non-essential" and high-risk for COVID infections must close, just months after getting permission to reopen.
"Including gyms, fitness centers or classes, barbers, hair salons, spas, tattoo or piercing parlors, nail technicians and nail salons, cosmetologists, estheticians, the provision of laser hair removal and electrolysis, and all other personal care services," added Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz in his own briefing, which was held shortly after the conclusion of Cuomo's event.
Schools in orange zones will close effective Monday and resume remote learning, but Cuomo explained how they could reopen while still under orange.
"With schools there's what we call a test out option," he said. "Schools close in an orange zone but the schools can reopen if they stay closed for four days, they clean, and then they test people who come back in, (students) as well as faculty and staff. So the schools can reopen in an orange zone. And then there's ongoing weekly surveillance."
Cuomo, and later Poloncarz, renewed calls to the public to not hold the usual Thanksgiving dinners and gatherings as a means to curb the spread of the virus. The governor, noting the holiday, predicted some people would still come together and warned that the virus will spread if that happens. His advice to New Yorkers for Thanksgiving was "don't be a turkey."
Poloncarz noted that COVID numbers across the border in Canada had risen not long after that nation's Thanksgiving holiday in October.
"The Canadian experience showed that there was a rapid spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19 cases from individuals who went to family and friends' houses for Thanksgiving. Let's learn from their experience," he said. "This is not a war on Thanksgiving. We want people to have Thanksgiving.
We also want people in 2021 to be around at the dinner table for that Thanksgiving."Poloncarz said testing can also be part of the problem, with private labs sometimes not returning a result for a week compared to the county lab's quick turnaround.
"My understanding is that it's basically a 36-40 hour turnaround from when the test was done and when the person is notified of their positive or negative result," he said. "I have heard plenty of complaints about: I went to this private lab. I went to my doctor's office. I've heard of that and we understand that those delays still exist."
Those slow test results can be a real problem. Many people who don't get a quick result live life life as usual, instead of in the self-quarantine health officials recommend.