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Drawing Boundaries

To be honest, I was a little perplexed when I first saw the lines called “Western New York” as drafted for our region in the coronavirus fight. They were different from other maps I have seen over time.

For example, the western New York Region for the Courts of the state is called “Region 8” and includes the COVID-19 counties as well as Genesee, Wyoming and Orleans Counties. “Region 9” for the DEC has another group of counties and “Region 5” for the DOT another.

Perhaps the biggest anomaly for me was why the three “Southern Tier West” counties of Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany were not put into the COVID-19 “Southern Tier Region” which would have aligned us historically with counties of similar interests. In terms of our economy, we have always had a lot more in common with Corning than we have Buffalo.

In a way, I can see how parts of Chautauqua and Cattaraugus County could have been included with Erie County because communities like Dunkirk, Fredonia and Gowanda are home to people who drive into the Buffalo area for work. But places like Allen, Fillmore and Short Tract in Allegany County… what do people there have in common with Erie County? Buffalo, to them, is almost like a foreign country.

These issues may seem moot now that we have started to reopen things, but I would still be interested in how the five counties called “Western New York” for COVID-19 purposes came into being. That has not been explained to us.

From a practical standpoint, I can see how they might have been chosen. As a very low-density area, the infection numbers of these rural counties could help “average down” the much higher numbers coming out of Erie County. The three counties called “Southern Tier West” also have less “clout” than the more affluent rural counties located between Buffalo and Rochester. Somehow Orleans, Genesee and Wyoming Counties, which border Erie and Niagara, found a way to get into the Finger Lakes Region (which began earlier to reopen) and not into Western New York.

Of course, the result of all of this “line drawing” has been the reality that Chautauqua County could not begin a “reopening” process until Erie County was ready to do it, and people down here have been “chaffing at the bit” to get things restarted.

The public still trusts the health community and doctors more than it does politicians when it comes to all of this, and maybe we will benefit long-term by having had a slower reopening. But, the optics of line-drawing have not been good and need to be further explained. There is now some talk of creating “Sub Regions” in the Southern Tier. But what would that mean? There are now 4 separate reporting areas in Chautauqua County. Could they separately be subject to a phased reopening (or shut-down) based on their number of hospitalizations, cases and other data? That hasn’t been made clear either.

We have to be patient because our enemy is persistent and deadly. But, people also want to get back to work and those living in low-density areas need a game plan as to how that can be safely done. At the same time, we don’t want to “un-do” the efforts we have made in containing the disease.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.

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