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County Officials: Vigilance Is Still Needed During Reopening

As the reopening of Western New York starts, Chautauqua County officials are expressing to residents that vigilance is still needed.

County officials on Tuesday discussed Phase One reopening of Western New York, which includes the counties of Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie and Niagara. Even though the reopening of the economy has partially started, county officials urged residents to continue social distancing measures and wearing face masks to prevent a backslide that could shutdown the economy again.

“The last thing we need is for the next phases to be delayed,” said County Executive PJ Wendel.

Christine Schuyler, county public health director, said COVID-19 is a highly infections disease and, with more people moving around again with the reopening, people should expect the number of cases to increase.

“The virus is here. It hasn’t gone anywhere,” she said. “We’ve just done an excellent job mitigating it. We must still remain vigilant. It’s too soon to let our guard down.”

During the weekend, there were seven new COVID-19 cases in the county. Schuyler said, after contract tracing each case, the increase was due to people not abiding by the social distancing requirements.

“It’s a testament of how we still need to be vigilant,” she said.

Dr. Robert Burke, county physician, said the new cases can be directly related to people gathering together with others.

“This is the perfect way to screw up this opportunity,” he said.

Wendel said the Phase One reopening is for specific industries and business such as construction; agriculture, like forestry, fishing and hunting; retail, limited to curbside or in-store pickup or drop off; wholesale trade; and manufacturing.

Retail businesses allowed to reopen include clothing stores; direct selling establishments; electronics and appliance stores; furniture and home furnishings; florists; general merchandise; health and personal care; jewelry, luggage and leather goods; lawn and garden equipment; office supplies; used merchandise; and sporting goods.

“Today is a great day. It feels like there was a black cloud over our county and the sun has finally come out,” said Mark Geise, deputy county executive for economic development.

Geise said there is a guide for businesses on the Phase One reopening at forward.ny.gov. He said the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency has worked with dozen of businesses on Phase One reopening plans.

The county executive said business owners included in the other phases of reopening should start working on their plans. He said it’s expected that each different phase will open two weeks apart. Phase Two includes professional services, retail, administrative support, and real estate, retail and leasing; Phase Three includes restaurants and food services; and Phase Four includes arts, entertainment and recreation, and education.

Wendel said officials in Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties are still discussing with state officials the sub-region plan that was announced last week in case there are spikes with hospitalization and death rates in other areas of Western New York. However, he said no definitive word has come from the governor’s office on the proposal.

Wendel said the responsibility of keeping Chautauqua County open is now up to its residents to continue practicing safety protocols so there is no backslide.

“The challenge is up to us. It’s up to the residents,” he said. “What can you do to help Chautauqua County stay strong, and move into Phase Two, Three and Four reopenings.”

The county Health Department reported one new confirmed case of the virus Tuesday, a young adult male, bringing the total to 54. There remains 13 active cases (none hospitalized), in addition to 37 recoveries, four deaths, 225 county residents either in quarantine or isolation and 1,871 negative test results.

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