State data shows Western New York not ready to reopen this weekend

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For six straight days last week, a key metric for reopening Western New York – the three-day average of Covid-19 hospitalizations – showed declines, raising hopes that the region would be among those opening sooner rather than later. But that streak came to a crashing halt Monday.

The three-day average of hospitalizations in the region increased to 208 on Monday, up from 204 the day before. The streak didn’t last a full week, much less the 14 days called for in the state’s criteria for reopening.

There now appears to be little chance that the region can reopen this weekend, unless sharp and unexpected drops in both new Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths occur.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul left the door open to the region reopening earlier, but that would require the region to show a marked decline in numbers that aren’t falling fast.

“There will be no openings until the numbers are met,” Hochul said Tuesday.

The state’s updated dashboard shows that Western New York has zero days of consecutive Covid-19 hospitalization declines.

For the region to reopen, hospitalizations must show a “sustained decline” over 14 days. Or net new hospitalizations cannot exceed 15. This region’s average is 28.

In addition, this region does not meet the state’s benchmark requiring a sustained decline in the number of Covid-19 related hospital deaths or an average number of deaths at five or fewer. Western New York has only seen a three-day decline in deaths, and the average number of deaths stands at nine.

The state defines Western New York as Erie, Niagara, Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties. Erie County, as a population center, has a disproportionate impact on the region.

The Buffalo News analyzed state data released Tuesday and found:

• From the day of the first Covid-19 hospitalization, it took two weeks for the region to reach 100 hospitalized patients. But it took only five days to double that number.

•  The region has had at least 200 people hospitalized for 38 straight days, with the average number hospitalized during that stretch at 235.

• Western New York reached its peak Covid-19 hospitalizations in late April. Hospitalizations peaked at 263 on April 28.

• The deadliest day for hospital patient deaths was April 24 when 13 people died. The numbers have shown an overall downward trend since then, but not enough to meet the state reopening criteria.

• In April, an average of six hospitalized people a day died of Covid-19 in Western New York. That average has fallen to five deaths per day so far in May.

Poloncarz had expressed optimism on Monday that the region might open soon based on limited hospitalization data from last week that showed a decline.

Western New York is one of four regions – out of 10 – that fail to meet two or more of the benchmarks laid out by the state.

This region meets the criteria for hospital and intensive care bed capacity, new hospitalizations, diagnostic testing and contact tracing.

The state updated and added more information to its New York Forward monitoring dashboard on Tuesday. It shows where each region stands on meeting the seven state benchmarks. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that the state has posted all its data online, making it “totally transparent.”

After resisting past requests to provide detailed hospitalization trend data, the state has now posted that information, as well.

“I want every New Yorker to know all the facts,” Cuomo said. “If you give them the real facts, they will respond intelligently. But you have to give them the real facts, and that’s transparency.”

He added that he does not have more information regarding each region’s status than what is being posted publicly on the state’s web pages.

Both he and Hochul also said that there is not an arbitrary reopening date, beyond the expiration of the governor’s “pause” orders on Friday.

Regional groups appointed by the governor will use the data to help decide when the state’s seven key metrics have been met and when each region is free to begin a phased reopening.

Reopening the economy will occur in four phases, with the first phase allowing for reopening only construction, manufacturing, the wholesale trade, agriculture and forestry, and retail locations using curbside pickup only.

The first reopening phase would be followed by three later phases that would allow things such as professional services, retail, restaurants, entertainment and schools to reopen.

While the governor has previously said that regions must wait 14 days between each reopening phase, he and Hochul said Tuesday that this waiting period is not set in stone.

If a region begins the phased reopening and shows no resulting uptick in any of the seven indicators for an outbreak, then there may not be a need to wait a full two weeks before embarking on the next phase of the reopening plan.

“We will be looking to institute some flexibility on that,” Hochul said. “We want to make sure we are not limited if we hit some bench marks. We don’t want them to have to wait.”

News Political Reporter Robert McCarthy and Enterprise Editor Patrick Lakamp contributed to this report.

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