Why is Erie County still an Orange Zone?

Posted at 6:00 PM, Jan 11, 2021

ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. (WKBW) — Why is Erie County an Orange Zone despite having more than 85% of hospital beds available? A state official tells 7 Eyewitness News Erie County remains an Orange Zone because the COVID positive rate and hospitalizations are increasing.

"I don't think Erie County is quite ready to get out of Orange Zone restrictions. The number of new cases, new hospitalizations, total hospitalizations, 10% positivity, whatever metric that you want to look at is higher now than when the restrictions were initially put in place," Dr. Thomas Russo, Professor and Chief of Infectious Disease at the University at Buffalo's Jacobs School of Medicine, said.

Last Thursday, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said he has been advocating the state remove Erie County's orange zone restrictions, but the numbers prevent change.

"As the Governor has noted, our numbers are going up and our hospital rates are going up. That's not going to happen. We are headed in the wrong direction," County Executive Poloncarz said.

But Dr. Russo and County Executive Poloncarz said things get fuzzy when it comes to comparing Erie County's numbers with other areas of the state where there are no zone restrictions.

"I think what's quite clear is compared to the rest of the state, Erie County has been doing better as of the last month plus or so," Dr. Russo said.

"It's a little unfair to be treating Erie County differently than some other parts of the state that actually have worse numbers," County Executive Poloncarz said.

For example, as of January 9th, the Capital Region and the Mohawk Valley reported higher 7 day rolling averages than Western New York. The Capital Region had a 9.5% positive rate, Mohawk Valley 10.5%. Those areas have no zone restrictions.

Western New York meantime reported an 8.4% 7 day rolling average positive rate and orange zone restrictions still in place.

The Capital Region and the Mohawk Valley also have fewer hospital beds available than Western New York, yet still do not even have yellow zone restrictions.

"A number of inequities exist when you look at what's designated as certain zones compared to other parts of the state," Dr. Russo said.

Areas surrounding Erie County's Orange Zone also seem to meet the metrics to become orange zones, but remain yellow.

Niagara County's 7 day average positive rate was 9.8%, where Erie County's was 6.9%.

"And I've wondered, the larger amount of cases we've seen in Niagara County, which doesn't have the same restrictions as part of Erie County, may be due to that fact but it's very difficult to sort these things out," Dr. Russo said.

A state official says the Mohawk Valley and Capital Region are not orange zones because they have more than 85% hospital capacity, but the official could not explain why the areas are not yellow zones.