Cattaraugus County Public Health Director Dr. Kevin Watkins said he understands that people are experiencing cabin fever during the coronavirus pandemic and that they worry about the economy.
But he cautioned that before the economy can reopen, widespread testing must occur.
For now, Watkins said, social distancing must continue.
“As soon as we can get more tests out there, we will have a better idea of when we can get things up and running,” Watkins told TAPinto Greater Olean Tuesday. “We have no antiviral medication, so the only way to stop it is for people to stay in their homes.”
In Cattaraugus County, less than 600 coronavirus tests have been administered, according to the county’s interactive COVID-19 Case Tracker.
Earlier Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo conducted his daily media briefing in Buffalo and said that he and his staff will make regional decisions regarding the reopening of the state’s economy.
“North Country has a totally different situation than New York City. Central New York has a different situation,” Cuomo said. “We operate as one state, but we also have to understand variations, and you do want to get this economy open as soon as possible, and if a situation is radically different in one part of the state than another part of the state, take that into consideration.”
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Buffalo native, will oversee the region of Western New York, Cuomo said.
“We’re going to ask her to take charge of Western New York, monitor the public health issues and make sure that if there’s a problem in terms of public health, we’re marshaling all the resources from across the state to help us in New York and also to start to work on the reimagining and the reopening plan for Western New York," the governor said.
Cuomo said during the briefing that he intended to ask his former lieutenant governor Bob Duffy to volunteer as a special adviser in the Finger Lakes region. He also announced that elective outpatient treatments can resume in counties and hospitals without significant risk of COVID-19 surge in the near term.
Cuomo’s briefing came shortly after Rep. Tom Reed and New York State Sen. George Borrello, who represent the Greater Olean area, criticized Cuomo for what they termed his "one-size-fits all" plan for policies during the pandemic.
Reed and Borrello were joined by six New York state legislators during Reed’s weekly media call.
“In our region, we are confident that we can open up our region to business,” Reed said. “This one-size-fits-all type of approach that our governor is looking to do needs to be challenged.”
Reed continued, “Given the nature of the numbers of the coronavirus that we have been exposed to in our region, I think we are very well positioned to open up our region and make the claim to the governor that what happens in western and upstate New York is much different than what we are all aware of in New York City.”
“We need to understand that we are very different,” he said. “The governor has this one-size-fits-all plan, which I understand works from a public health standpoint , but that can’t be done to reopen our state,” Borrello said. “Unfortunately, I think he’s a bit myopic. He mentioned yesterday that maybe people can continue to just work from home. You can’t work from home and build an engine. You can’t work from home and run a restaurant. We need to get people back to work, and we can do it safely here.”
Later Tuesday, Borrello and Reed issued new statements about Cuomo’s announcements.
Borrello applauded Cuomo for his embrace of a regionally based plan to restart New York’s economy.
“While no one expects to go back to the same practices that existed prior to this pandemic, we can carefully and safely begin to restart our economy upstate, which benefits all New Yorkers,” Borrello said.
Borrello added, “We look forward to sharing our ideas with Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul and former Lt. Governor Robert Duffy as they assume coordination of reopening strategies for Western New York and the Finger Lakes regions. With so much at stake, input from a range of stakeholders will be critical in determining the best path forward for our economy and our residents.
Reed said, “I’m pleased to see the governor is finally listening to what local officials, health care providers, and the citizens of upstate have been saying all along. As we look to gradually reopen portions of the state, we will continue to work closely with all levels of government to push for the health and economic solutions that are specifically tailored to meet the needs of the community.”
Both Borrello and Reed acknowledged that restarting the economy will pose challenges, but believe it is possible with a well-thought-out plan.
Reed focused on COVID-19 testing ability and other public health measures, saying he feels confident in the leadership of local hospitals and healthcare providers.
“You utilize testing capability, you utilize the ability to identify what the virus is doing and where the virus is flaring up in terms of hot zones,” Reed said. “You then realize that you have concrete supply chains in place to deal with personal protective equipment to deal with necessary resources like personnel in order to get to those areas where the virus goes up because now you have those diagnosting testing. Talking to our hospitals and providers, I am very confident in their leadership and innovation will be able to utilize that testing both diagnostic and antibody in regards to measuring the community's immunity to the virus.”
While it is unclear to the Cattaraugus County public health director when the increase in testing will happen, Reed said he is encouraged with what he has heard about private companies and rapid testing.
“Not just diagnostic testing, but antibody testing,” Reed said. “You can have a five-minute or 15- minute turnaround for those tests. That’s going to lead to huge capacities on the testing front. Is it going to happen tomorrow? Probably not. Will it happen in the next 14 days? That's a more realistic assessment."
Borrello said businesses need to play a big part in the planning for the restart of the economy and that adjustments must be made.
“We aren’t going to flip the switch and, all of a sudden, people are going to want to crowd movie theaters and restaurants again,” Borrello said. “People aren’t going to want to do that. Businesses will have to adjust. We need to put it in the hands of businesses to come up with a responsible plan. We will do this safely and conservatively, but it has to happen.”
Janene Coldren, communications specialist at Upper Allegheny Health System which operates Olean General Hospital, said while it is not the UAHS decision to reopen the economy, it is too early to think Cattaraugus County is in the clear.
“Reopening counties is not our decision,” Coldren responded in a Tuesday afternoon email to TAPinto Greater Olean. “Our responsibility is to take care of patients and fight the virus on the medical side.
“That said,” Coldren continued, “COVID-19 is still on rise, especially in Erie County, which is next door to Cattaraugus. It is too early to say we are in the clear.”
Cuomo said that his decision to reopen the economy will be driven by data such as hospitalization rate, infection rate and where regions are on the infection curve.
“Look at the CDC guidelines, talk to the local officials,” Cuomo said. “The ‘when’ is data-driven. It’s not when do you want. If the question is when do you want, my answer is that I want it yesterday. Okay, it’s not what you want. It’s data-driven.”
Cuomo also promised that if the curve continues to trend upward in regions such as Western New York, the rest of the state will respond accordingly.
“Just like some states will reopen before other states because they have a different circumstance when it comes to COVID-19 and their status with COVID-19, it’s also true across the state,” Cuomo said. “Whatever Erie County needs, whatever Western New York needs, you have my word that the rest of the state will be responsive.”
For more information on the Coronavirus in the Greater Olean area, visit TAPinto Greater Olean's Coronavirus Updates page, which is updated continuously.
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