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No plan in place to help hardest hit areas in Erie County dealing with COVID-19

Posted at 6:56 PM, Apr 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-07 19:09:01-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Erie County legislature chairwoman April Baskin is working to address the high number of positive COVID-19 cases in her legislative district.

She received numbers from the Erie County Health Department for the entire county and released the data in a statement Tuesday.

“As of Sunday, six out of 27 COVID-19 deaths in Erie County were Black residents. This equates to 22% of the deaths. Erie County’s population is 14% African American.

Baskin’s district, which includes 14215, has seen the highest number of cases in the entire county.

“80% of 14215 is African American, and I know that 26% of the district lives in poverty,” said Baskin.

By Tuesday afternoon, the number of deaths in Erie County had jumped to 39, but the continually changing numbers make it difficult to get specific demographics on people who have died.

“The hospitals don’t report the race information to the state,” said Melissa DeRosa, secretary to Governor Cuomo. “We end up calling the coroners office on the back end after the death has been reported.”

The numbers that have come in are concerning to Baskin.

“I think about throughout history how many times we’ve seen low-income communities or communities that happen to have an influx of people of color struggle with health disparities and not receive adequate care when it comes to having access to healthcare.”

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said the county feels the large numbers of cases in that area, which extends through the upper East Side of Buffalo to the Cheektowaga border, is because there are a lot of healthcare workers in the area.

But these healthcare workers aren’t necessarily doctors and nurses, said Baskin.

“What I don’t want to get lost is there are people that work in the healthcare field that probably are testing positive — these are people that work low wage jobs in the kitchen in the dietary department, custodians, home healthcare aides. They already don’t make a lot of income, they’re often robbing Peter to pay Paul just to be able to survive, they could very well be impacted, and I have a grave concern for them - they can’t afford to get sick, they can’t afford to lose their jobs, they’re struggling as it is.”

When it comes to spreading awareness in the area about the importance of social distancing and stopping the spread of COVID-19 — Poloncarz said that’s not a job for his office.

“That’s what you (the media) do. That’s why we share the information.”

Baskin said she thinks some of the $5 million the legislature approved for emergency use by the county could be spent on increased awareness for the areas hardest hit.

“Making sure the zip code that’s being impacted the greatest…gets those resources, and gets them immediately.”

Poloncarz said as of right now until any federal money comes in, that won’t happen.

“We have limited resources,” he said.” We have not received a dollar yet from the federal government. So if there’s an assumption, we will be able to spend more on a particular location that’s probably not going to happen at this point.”

Poloncarz does not feel communities of color are being left out of the response to COVID-19.

Baskin said this was an issue that was never addressed before the novel coronavirus hit Western New York.

“What are we going to do next time some type of worldwide virus, god forbid, hits us? These people will again be the frontline victims of another virus. We have to have a bigger conversation about 14215.”