Government, business and education leaders from the Greater Olean area are disappointed that the state will not allow Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties to reopen on Friday.
The state is taking a regional approach to reopening. New York’s Western New York region, which includes the three counties along with Erie and Niagara counties, has not met the state’s requirements for reopening on Friday, the expiration date for NY ON PAUSE,
“I’m disappointed, especially for our businesses,” Olean Mayor William J. Aiello said. “It's going to be very difficult for us because we're tied in with Erie and Niagara counties. If you look at the numbers for Cattaraugus County, we would meet all seven of the criteria, but we're in the western region which takes in Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie and Niagara counties.”
Dr. Anthony Evans, Mayor of the Village of Portville, expressed a similar sentiment.
“All locals are at the mercy of the state,” Evans said. “As a village, we are following federal, state, and county guidelines as well as using some good old common sense. I personally am not in favor of clumping Cattaraugus County with Erie and Niagara countries, but it is what is for now."
Sen. George Borrello, who represents the Greater Olean area, said the state’s “one-size-fits-all approach” will cause economic damage for residents and businesses in Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties.
“I was very disappointed to learn that the entire Western New York REDC (Regional Economic Development Council) region will not be permitted to participate in the first phase of reopening following the expiration of NY on PAUSE on May 15,” Borrello said. “While infection rates in Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties have consistently been among the lowest in the state throughout the COVID-19 crisis, our linkage with Erie County and its higher infection rates means that we don’t meet the metrics for reopening, and our hurting, rural economies must remain shut down for at least another two weeks.”
St. Bonaventure University President Dennis DePerro said it is unfortunate that Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties are grouped with Erie County.
“I understand there need to be boundaries someplace,” DePerro said. “But what Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Allegany counties have experienced during the pandemic is nothing like what Erie County — and, to a lesser extent, Niagara County — have experienced, even if you look at it proportionally based on our lower populations.”
Most businesses in the Greater Olean area feel they are ready to begin the reopening process, according to Meme Yanetsko, the Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce's chief operating officer
"The first priority is the safety of employees and customers, and with the protocols in place, most everyone is ready to get started with that first phase," Yanetsko said.
One of the financial challenges facing many area businesses is that although they have been able to stay open in some capacity, they do not have their full staffs, she said.
"For many people who are self-employed, it has taken them a long time to see if they are even eligible for unemployment," Yanetsko said. "Also, some employees are not coming back to work because of the additional money that they are receiving from the state in unemployment."
Tracy Mitrano, the Democratic candidate in the 23rd Congressional District, pointed to a survey conducted by Cornell University faculty that shows many residents of the three counties lack the heath care needed to resist the coronavirus.
Areas in which the population tends to lack preventative health care and has underlying dispositions of high blood pressure, diabetes, COPD and other disorders “seem to feed into the fatality rates of this virus,” she said.
“I don’t know if there is a more detailed, granular approach that we can take to the state than dividing it up into regions,” Mitrano said. “If we could, then I would understand that Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany need to be distinguished from Erie and Niagara.”
Mitrano's opponent, Rep. Tom Reed, has been critical of the state’s regional approach to reopening.
“This one-size-fits-all type of approach that our governor is looking to do needs to be challenged,” he told reporters during a media call on April 21.
Upper Allegheny Health Systems, the parent company of Olean General Hospital and Bradford Regional Medical Center, has no control relative to the decision to reopen, according to Dennis McCarthy, director of marketing, Twin Tier at Kaleida Health.
“We will do our part to help meet the regional metrics to help reopen the Western New York Region,” McCarthy wrote in an email to TAPinto Greater Olean.
The Western New York Region has not met two of the seven metrics the state has established for reopening:
- 14-day decline in hospitalizations OR under 15 new hospitalizations (on a three-day average), and
- 14-day decline in hospital deaths OR fewer than five deaths (on a three-day rolling average).
The five metrics that the Western New York Region has met are:
- New hospitalizations under two per 100,000 residents on a three-day rolling average;
- Share of total hospital beds available of at least at 30%;
- Share of total intensive care unit beds of at least 30%;
- At least 30 contact tracers per 100,000 residents, and
- 30 tests per 1,000 residents monthly (based on a seven-day average of new tests per day).
TAPinto Greater Olean reporters Connor Griffin, Layne Dowdall, Michael Hogan and Jeff Uveino contributed to this report.
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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