BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW-TV) — The New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) realizes people are getting restless for reopening. However, the association is reminding the public that reopening the state will take time and will not happen all at once.
"We are in the gray period where we are not entirely closed but we are not entirely open," said Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro.
"I am personally of the opinion, because of the issues we dealt with in Erie County, that we will probably not open on May 15, but I think we have a very good chance of opening on June 1," added Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
During a virtual press conference, that included NYSAC Executive Director Stephen Acquario, the challenges of reopening for counties on the "front lines" in the fight against Covid-19 were discussed.
Under Governor Andrew Cuomo's 7-point list of requirements to reopen counties, downstate has met its goal for testing. That is not the case in WNY where testing still has a ways to go to reach the expected levels. As of May 4th, WNY needed to do 41,313 tests. The WNY average, so far, is only 35,186.
Mark Poloncarz said Erie County is "ramping-up testing" to meet the requirements.
In addition, Erie County plans to take people from different departments and train them to be 'contact tracers.' They will research positive cases of Covid-19 to see where the individual had been. Under the state reopening rules, WNY needs to have 414 'contact tracers.'
While antibody testing has not been widespread, County Executive Poloncarz said what has been done shows only about 10% of Erie County's population has been exposed to the coronavirus.
"That means more than 90% of my population has not come in contact with it. That scares me as to what could potentially happen in the future," added Poloncarz.
The county executives said that more time is needed to prepare to open. For one, they are still waiting on NYS for a 'template' of what businesses must do to meet the protocols and standards of health safety.
Even though recent numbers are showing improvement, Mark Poloncarz said Erie County continues to show a higher percentage of problems than some other metropolitan areas such as Pittsburgh.
On a positive note, Erie County has been able to exceed the threshold of having at least 30% of hospital and ICU beds available for Covid cases.
Some have asked why the counties don't have the authority to determine which businesses are essential and when they can reopen in their communities (as opposed to the state deciding).
Poloncarz said that would open the door for different counties setting different rules - which in turn, could make things hard for companies that operate in locations across the state.
The NYS Association of Counties is pushing for more direct conversations with the governor about reopening and increased access to data showing the progress counties are making in their efforts to reopen.
Covid-19 blasted huge holes in county budgets across the state by wiping out $3.5 billion dollars in revenue from sources such as hotels, gaming, mortgage recording fees, and sales tax.
Sales tax money is especially important as it is shared with cities/towns/villages/school districts within a county.
NYSAC is now calling on Congress to approve stimulus money that goes directly to local governments, and not by way of the state where it can be delayed.
The association warns that failing to get the "Stimulus 4.0" money will force counties to layoff employees and drastically cut services.
County Executive Mark Poloncarz said he is already planning for the worst and has asked his departments to come with up budget plans to cut 13.1%. That would effectively mean a roughly 25% cut overall because the budget money is appropriated on a yearly basis and we are five months into 2020, explained Poloncarz.
"So, we still need to do some work before we get to the point where reopening will not set us back," explained Mark Poloncarz.