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County Declares State Of Emergency, Schools To Close

P-J file photo by Eric Tichy

MAYVILLE — A local state of emergency declaration Sunday afternoon and a recommendation from top Chautauqua County officials prompted schools to announce their closure for at least a month as concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus continue.

No cases of the virus have been confirmed locally, though three were reported Saturday in neighboring Erie County.

“There is no need to panic,” County Executive PJ Wendel said during a press conference in Mayville. “We want to make sure that everybody remains calm. What we are doing here is remaining vigilant as a county and preparing for the future.”

Wendel’s announcement comes after Gov. Andrew Cuomo on March 7 declared a disaster emergency for New York state.

“Although there are no confirmed cases within Chautauqua County to date, this situation is rapidly evolving,” Wendel said, “and the threat of this virus is imminent to the citizens and visitors of Chautauqua County.”

Shortly after the county executive’s comments, the Jamestown Public Schools District announced that all classes would be canceled beginning Monday.

“At this time classes are not expected to resume until Monday, April 20,” the district announced. “While there are not yet any confirmed cases of coronavirus in our county, it is important that we all work together as a school family to slow the spread of the disease in order to prevent people from becoming ill. Over the coming weeks, out staff will provide essential services to support continued learning at home, child care and access to school meals.

Other school districts followed suit, with most announcing that classes would be canceled this week. The decision came at the urging of county health officials, noting the need to prevent the potential spread of the disease.

“One of the things I want to remind people of, again, this is not to start any sort of panic,” Wendel said, noting that more than 40 counties have declared states of emergency. “Not every county has a positive case.”

A Chautauqua County COVID-19 response team has been created, comprised of county officials including Wendel; Christine Schuyler, county director of health and human services; Sheriff James Quattrone; and John Griffith, county director of emergency services, among others. The county executive said the team will meet on a daily basis to stay up to date on the virus.

Among the items noted during the press conference was Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s policy of “social distancing” and 50% occupancy requirements for statewide establishments including restaurants and bars.

“I am very understanding and sympathetic to our local businesses,” Wendel said, “and this decision was very challenging because this not only affects our school districts but it greatly impacts the economic engine throughout Chautauqua County.”

Schuyler said of Sunday evening, two people were in “precautionary quarantine.” She said four people have been tested for the virus, with three tests coming back negative and the fourth pending.

“While there are no positive cases in our county, I do feel that it is inevitable,” Schuyler. “This is a pandemic. The COVID-19 disease is here in our state. It’s in our neighboring states and it will come. That’s what a pandemic does.”

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