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Runaway Numbers Have Us All On Hot Seat

Numerous area residents made their way to the Dunkirk testing site from Saturday through Wednesday on Brigham Road. Photo by Catherine D’Agostino

This upcoming holiday weekend could be the most pivotal three days in Chautauqua County’s battle with COVID-19 since the middle of March and the month of April when the pandemic began. Can this community get a grip, especially the north county, on an alarming surge in cases that are threatening our way of life?

As of today, prospects seem dim. Realistically, we appear to be going backward in how our region is dealing with the pandemic.

A serious outbreak at Fieldbrook Foods in Dunkirk as well as the rising number of cases at the State University of New York at Fredonia could be just the beginning. Even more unknowns possibly lie ahead in the coming weeks.

It starts with area schools, which were supposed to begin opening next week. Parents are split over whether their children should return.

In the business sector, a number of companies had targeted more employees returning to the workplace after Labor Day. Who knows if that is still the case.

Restaurants, which had been struggling with reduced capacity, will begin to lose the customers from outdoor seating as cooler temperatures begin to arrive.

Summer’s end is usually bleak, but never this much of a downer. Usually, this time of year is almost a new beginning as classrooms across the region fill with students while sports fans savor the start of football season — from high school to professional.

As optimistic as we may want to be, the rising case numbers have an eerily similar sense to the screeching halt in our lives that we all experienced in the spring.

Through Wednesday, there have been a total of 442 cases reported in Chautauqua County since the first positive case on March 23. That equals more than 2 1/2 cases per day over 163 days.

Even more startling are the recent results. On Aug. 21, Chautauqua County reported 286 confirmed cases through the pandemic. Since then, there has been a 55% increase in cases — an added 156 — or an average of 13 infections per day.

This has the look of a runaway train.

Within the past week, Chautauqua County leadership has been admittedly feeling the heat. From a continued lack of information in the daily reports — still without weekend updates — to admitting a strategic delayed response in alerting workers and the public to the cluster of cases at Fieldbrook, residents have a right to believe as though they have been betrayed.

Some of those who are candidates seeking office in the November election have rightly begun speaking out. The loudest of those include Christina Cardinale, who is running against powerhouse incumbent Andrew Goodell for state Assembly in District 150, as well as Richard Morrisroe, who is seeking the position of county executive.

Interim County Executive PJ Wendel has said recently during discussions with other media he believes the attacks are political. In the meantime, too many current elected officials have become speechless.

Other than Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist, who noted a concern in the Fieldbrook spike almost immediately due to a number of residents from the south county working there, silence has become supreme from those winning the popular vote. Consider:

¯ Two days after the Aug. 24 press conference in Mayville announcing the outbreak, the 19 county legislators continued their underwhelming presence. While talking airports and awards, no legislator — especially Kevin Muldowney or Robert Bankoski from Dunkirk– said a word about the crisis. How’s that for representation?

¯ Dunkirk Common Council, including big labor supporters First Ward Councilman Don Williams and Second Ward Councilman Martin Bamonto, had nothing to say about how workers may have been put in harm’s way due to the lack of immediacy in dealing with the Fieldbrook issue.

¯ Goodell and Sen. George Borrello, who may be working behind the scenes on this issue, also have been far too quiet. That seems very out of character for both of these state representatives who are very much plugged into this county.

All this being said, there is no one path or trail out of this COVID-19 forest that has engulfed our world. As numbers across New York went down, we had no choice but to take steps back to normalcy — even if there were risks associated with it.

No one has the perfect answer at this point. Cases, unfortunately, will continue.

What we need, as has been said more than once, is to reduce the spread. This call to action depends on individual responsibility — in the community and on campus. Communication and information from elected and appointed county leaders, as we have seen by the botched Fieldbrook situation, are just as important.

We had low numbers until two weeks ago. We can get there again — with the right precautions and decisions.

John D’Agostino is the regional editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 253.

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