LITTLE VALLEY — Cattaraugus County Legislature Chairman Howard VanRensselaer is hopeful Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest restrictions involving restaurants, bars and gyms will help reduce the county’s uptick in coronavirus cases.
Will the new restrictions — including limiting indoor family gatherings to 10 people — be enough to get Cattaraugus County residents over the Thanksgiving hump?
“I don’t see why it wouldn’t reduce the spread of COVID,” VanRensselaer, R-Randolph, said. “We’ll have to wait and see. Hopefully it’s going to work.”
In limiting restaurants to four people a table, closing bars and restaurants at 10 p.m. except for take-out and delivery, and closing gyms at 10 p.m., the governor is trying to tamp down the spread of COVID-19 without a full-blown business shutdown. Many small businesses have yet to recover from the effects of the pandemic.
VanRensselaer, who has been overseeing the county’s response to the coronavirus since March, said he’s a little concerned over the governor’s decision to limit family gatherings to 10.
“What about large families?” he asked. “What do they do? I don’t think it will make any difference.”
Those traveling from outside the state will have to have a negative COVID-19 test before coming to New York.
“Hopefully, it’s going to work,” VanRensselaer said. Out-of-state “people need to be tested before they mingle with their families,” he added.
“We’re doing all we can and following instructions,” VanRemnsselaer said. “The situation is that we can’t determine the outcome.”
As of Wednesday, Cattaraugus County had 565 residents with positive COVID-19 tests, 21 of whom have died. There were 106 active COVID-19 cases the Health Department was following and another 221 people in mandatory quarantine.
“We have addressed it very aggressively,” VanRensselaer said. “We followed directions from the state which limited our options. Everything worked well on our part.”
Dr. Kevin Watkins, the county’s public health director, has guided the health department very well during the pandemic, the Legislature chairman said.
“We were one of the last counties in the state with a positive test in the spring,” VanRensselaer noted. “We have taken pretty good control. It should be leveling off and going back down soon. The Health Department is doing a very good job.”
VanRensselaer said the county continues to receive supplies — including personal protective equipment — from the state.
The county continues to receive complaints of people not wearing masks. Either the Health Department or sheriff’s deputies check out the complaints.
With large numbers of people in mandatory quarantine,VanRensselaer said staffing in adult care facilities is a problem. “We are addressing it,” he added.
Large numbers of COVID-19 also mean more people are needed for contact tracing to find people who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Will the latest restrictions be enough to stave off another shutdown and stay-at-home order?
“I hope so,” VanRensselaer said.
Watkins said the governor’s most recent directives to bars, restaurants and gyms, which he maintains are major sources of community spread, “are a prelude to what might come in the future if things don’t change in New York.”
The earlier closings and limited seating per table “is a Band Aid,” Watkins said. “We may have to go back to hunkering down to decrease the transmission rate.”
Watkins said the governor’s tempered response is an attempt “to make sure the economic impact is not as severe” as shutting down the economy almost completely as occurred back in March and April.
“Let’s see if it will work to reduce people congregating,” he said of the new provisions. Cuomo wants residents to cap indoor gatherings at homes to 10, especially with the holidays coming.
Watkins said the county’s positivity rate on Thursday, when there were 20 new COVID-19 cases, was lower than the initial 2.9% because it did not include the number of tests administered outside the Health Department.
The seven day rolling average was 1.9% and the 14-day rolling average was 2.1%, Watkins said. The county — or parts of the county — could be designated “yellow zone” if there is a sustained 3.5% rate of infection.
“We’re not there, yet,” Watkins said. “It is part of this second wave. During the first wave, we hunkered down. Most businesses closed. (Olean) was like a ghost town.”
Watkins said now people seem to be more complacent.
“People are out and about — some wearing masks, but not enough,” he said “Everyone should wear a mask. Not wearing a mask is the leading factor causing our high infection rate.”
He said there are three ways to stop the spread of the virus: wear a mask, maintain social distancing and handwashing along with not touching your face. The mask will protect the wearers and those around them, he said.