With ever-rising COVID-19 rates, parts of Cattaraugus County could be on the way to yellow-zone designation by the state, the county’s public health director. said Friday.

The yellow zone is the least restrictive of the three color zones state officials have in their arsenal in efforts to bring down COVID-19 cases and deaths.

“We have really gone in the wrong direction,” Watkins told the Olean Times Herald. “It is so pervasive in the community. It is a very serious situation and we need to work together to reduce the number of cases.”

Watkins added, “We can do this. We have been a very resilient county.”

He urged residents to wear face masks, avoid crowds and maintain a social distance of 6 feet or more and wash their hands often.

Watkins said a yellow zone designation for parts of the county could come as early as Monday.

“We will see on Monday,” Watkins said. “The positivity rate is so high. At this rate, we may be in an orange zone.”

There are two criteria for yellow-zone designation, according to Watkins. One is the seven-day rolling average above 3.5% for 10 consecutive days. Friday’s seven-day average was 6.8%. The other is 15 or more daily cases per 100,000 population.

“We’ve pretty much met that as well,” he said.

The yellow designation would require school districts to test 20% of its students and staff per week and limit indoor and outdoor dining to four per table and closure of restaurants and bars at 10 p.m.

Watkins said Cattaraugus County school superintendents have opted to randomly test 20% of students weekly to reopen. The county health department has pledged to assist the schools that are affected, which would unlikely include all 13 school districts.

An orange designation would mean schools would have to close and the students be taught remotely for four days for thorough cleanings. The schools can then reopen after testing all students and staff. Restaurants would be limited to takeout and delivery as indoor and outdoor seating would be closed. Personal services like gyms, hair and nail salons would be closed.

This week’s 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision that numerical limits on church attendance were unconstitutional has been questioned by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who insisted the court did not rule on limiting church attendance in a pandemic to a percentage of capacity, but to 10 or 25 worshipers.

This week Cattaraugus County soared past the 1,000-case total since the pandemic began, after having registered its 500th case on Nov. 3.

The county’s first confirmed COVID-19 case was March 27. The county then hit the 100-mark on July 8, 200 on Sept. 13, 300 on Oct. 9 and 400 on Oct. 24.

The first confirmed death from COVID-19 was a 77-year-old man from the northeast part of the county with underlying health conditions who died in Buffalo’s Mercy Hospital on April 20.

There were no deaths between May 30, when the county recorded its fourth COVID-19 death, and Sept. 13. The 10th death was reported Oct. 7, the 20th death on Nov. 10 and the 27th death was reported on Tuesday, when the county had a record 81 residents test positive for COVID-19.

“That really took us above the yellow zone,” Watkins added.

Health officials said Friday’s daily positivity rate was 8.9%, while the seven-day rolling average was 6.8% and 14-day day average was 6.2%.

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