Public health and other officials in the GLOW region have been sounding the alarm about a spike in new cases of the novel coronavirus and for good reason.
Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming counties continue to see rising numbers of positive COVID-19 test results – at least 250 since Saturday, with the number of daily active cases higher than the virus’ spring peak. Along with rising caseload comes almost daily increases in each county’s positivity rate, the percent of positive COVID-19 test results.
If residents do not take this data – and the ongoing pandemic – seriously, more rules could be implemented to lower the numbers. On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that parts of Erie County, which was already in a “Yellow Zone” due to high positivity rates, would be moved to the more restrictive “Orange Zone.” Much of Monroe County, to our east, is in a “Yellow Zone.”
“We don’t want restrictions that will negatively impact businesses and the local economy, but if we continue to see increases and spikes, New York state is going to come in and create the zones,” Genesee County Legislature Chair Shelley Stein said in a Nov 10 statement, the day Erie and Monroe counties were first designated “Yellow” zones.
“Unfortunately, that is where we are trending if we don’t take action fast and become more vigilant to fight the spread of the virus,” Stein said.
For Genesee and Livingston counties, the metrics to be declared a “Yellow Zone” include a seven-day rolling average positivity rate above 3.5 percent for 10 days. For Orleans and Wyoming counties, the seven-day rolling average positivity rate threshold is above 4 percent for 10 days. The metrics for all four counties include 15 or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents on a seven-day average.
As of Tuesday, Genesee County had a 4.8 percent 7-day rolling average positivity rate, and had been above 3.5 percent for eight days, according to the state’s New York Forward website. Livingston County had a seven-day rolling average of 3 percent.
Orleans County had a seven-day rolling average positivity rate of 6.3 percent on Tuesday, and has been above 4 percent for seven days. Wyoming County had a seven-day rolling average of 6.8 percent, and has been above 4 percent for seven days, according to the New York Forward website.
The high rolling average in Orleans County prompted superintendents of the county’s five public schools to issue an open letter Nov. 12 urging residents to follow COVID-19 safety protocols to keep the county’s increasing infection rate from reaching a level that could push schools to a fully remote learning environment.
“Our students, faculty and staff have diligently followed our health and safety protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Despite everyone’s best efforts, the rising community spread of the virus could impact our instructional models,” said the letter from Holley Superintendent Brian Bartalo, Albion Interim Superintendent Scott Bischoping, Kendall Superintendent Julie Christensen, Medina Superintendent Mark Kruzynski, and Lyndonville Superintendent Jason Smith.
Community members were urged to follow the same face covering, social distancing, hand washing and disinfecting protocols that students and staff members adhere to while in school.
If a school district is placed in a “Yellow Zone” it would have to test 20 percent of its students and staff members weekly to continue with face-to-face instruction. If that seven-day rolling average continued to rise, districts would be considered an “Orange Zone” and be forced to go fully remote.
“We want our schools to stay open,” the letter said. “On behalf of the students and families in the Orleans County School Districts, we’re asking for your help to ensure schools remain open for in-person instruction.”
Some schools, such as Batavia, Alexander, Avon, Elba and Geneseo have switched selected classes to remote instruction for short periods in recent weeks following positive cases among students or staff.
The Genesee and Orleans County Health Departments has acknowledged that the rise in cases in Genesee County has at times overwhelmed its contact tracing staff – which has delayed updating information and potential exposure alerts, data vital to containing the spread of the coronavirus.
Other parts of the GLOW region have reported sobering news. Livingston and Orleans counties each recorded deaths due to COVID-19 on Nov. 9 – the first deaths in the region since early summer. Meanwhile, nearby Steuben County continues to see several deaths each week.
The rules about wearing masks – over both the nose and mouth, maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet, frequently washing hands and disinfecting surfaces regularly, and staying home if you’re not feeling well, are as vital now as they were when the pandemic began.
“If you feel ill in the slightest, then please do not go out or to work and contact your physician immediately in order to schedule a test,” said Paul Pettit, director of the Genesee and Orleans County health departments.
We have been fortunate in the GLOW region that our COVID numbers, until recently, had remained relatively low compared to other places in the state. But we must continue to view the broader picture. What is happening in nearby counties could easily affect our own communities. Some of the cases that spiked this fall in Livingston County were attributed to large social gatherings that occurred in Steuben County, just south of Livingston.
When the “Yellow Zone” was announced for Monroe County, Livingston County Public Health Director Jennifer Rodriguez acknowledged that there was worry that part of Livingston County – the Lima zip code in particular – could be included because of a rise in active cases there. Lima reached 20 active cases in late October.
The novel coronavirus is not to be taken lightly. We do so at great peril – to us, to our businesses and to the economy of the GLOW region. We don’t want the state to impose restrictions, so we must find ways to control this crisis ourselves.