By ALLISON RAPP
Buffalo — County Executive Mark Poloncarz in a Facebook livestream Wednesday afternoon said that at the moment of streaming only one person in Erie County had died from complications of COVID-19.
“We were hoping that we weren’t going to have a death in our community, but we did,” Poloncarz added, “and we’re hoping it won’t happen again.”
But it did. By Wednesday evening, a second county resident died. Both persons were over the age of 70.
Later in the streamed news conference Poloncarz veered to a rosier picture. He also noted four cases in Erie County in which the infected recovered. That number has since risen to five, and while it may be taken as a sign of progress, he warned that residents should still continue to take extreme precaution.
“You should assume that COVID-19 is in your community no matter where you live,” Poloncarz told viewers. “This is not something you should ignore. You should not underestimate the risks.”
According to a regularly updated virtual map, the total number of confirmed cases in Erie County has reached 146, with 139 of those cases currently active. Poloncarz said that Erie County received an “A” rating in social distancing from a National Social Distancing Scoreboard, but that new information is constantly surfacing in regards to the spread of COVID-19 in Western New York.
Testing continues to be conducted within the county, though it is reserved for health care workers, people living in congregate settings like nursing homes or prisons, and others who are present on the front line such as law enforcement. Officials are still encouraging those with mild symptoms to remain at home and not visit a hospital or emergency room for testing, in an effort to keep space free for individuals in more critical condition.
Also present at Wednesday’s livestream was Erie County Senior Services Commissioner, David Shenk, who briefed the community on his current work, which includes food delivery programs, transportation to essential medical appointments, and assisted living. Shenk also stressed the importance of “combating social isolation” for the elderly, who may be feeling lonely with the lack of visitors.
“Those of you who are seniors and have not yet embraced social media, this might be a great opportunity,” Shenk said, encouraging them to stay in touch with loved ones virtually.
Poloncaraz mentioned several other updates, including retrofitting various locations that could potentially be used for emergency medical centers, conversations with the Buffalo-based Army Corps of Engineers, the $160 million of federal stimulus money due to Erie County, and the use of experimental drugs to fight the virus.
“I’m not a medical doctor, and I do not play one on TV,” Poloncarz said. “Don’t go out there and take something because you heard someone say it. Talk to your doctor.”
The livestream concluded with Poloncarz’s reminder that many activities are still possible for residents following social distancing guidelines, like taking walks, watching movies, and listening to music.
“Just because we have to be physically distant from one another, doesn’t mean we have to socially disconnect.”