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Erie County legislators review health department's response to COVID-19 in the region

Posted at 12:41 PM, Apr 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-09 18:00:42-04

ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. (WKBW) — The Erie County legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee held a virtual meeting Thursday morning with Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein to get some clarity on where the COVID-19 response stands within the County.

Dr. Burstein laid out where the things stand as of now after studying models based out of the UB Jacob’s School of Medicine — these are models that are not available to the public. Still, Burstein said she is confident they are accurate, and the statisticians are using information from the New York State reporting system.

She calls the battle with COVID-19 a “marathon” and thinks we are looking at dealing with this for the next 12-18 months.

In her opinion, society will start to return to normal once we get testing done at a more advanced level.

The nation and New York State still face a shortage in testing, and reports have shown Erie County is behind in terms of our ability to test.

In daily briefings, both Burstein and County Executive Mark Poloncarz have shifted the focus from testing.

“What are we going to do if we test everyone in the county?” Burstein said on the call. “There is no treatment. When there is a treatment, we are going to be so aggressive with the testing.”

Erie County has spent $2.8 million of the $5 million in emergency funds released by the legislature to respond to the novel coronavirus. 7 Eyewitness News has learned these funds have been spent on personal protective equipment as well as upgrading the epidemiology unit and working to speed up and expand testing in the Erie County public health labs.

There are currently orders out for PPE in various amounts that exceeded the $5 million allocation, but this is in anticipation of the $159 million that will be coming to the County via the federal stimulus relief package.

There are some areas the county leadership is soliciting help from legislators and other facilities: that’s in nursing homes when it comes to the mental health of residents, and getting information out to vulnerable populations including the Black and Latino communities.

Dr. Burstein said the County is addressing health education by using various approaches. She said media is helping spread information. The County is also taking out advertisements in the Buffalo News. County Executive Mark Poloncarz is also communicating with legislators who represent predominately Black districts, as well as faith-based leaders to help push accurate information.

Legislator Ed Rath said his constituents had reported delays in notification of family members when residents in nursing homes have tested positive. Delayed notification of family members is an issue that Ruthie’s Law aimed to address. Burstein said this is a matter the State Department of Health enforces and the County will work with its partners at that level to evaluate their response.