COVID-19 has come to Erie County.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Saturday night announced three people in the county have tested positive for the virus.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz confirmed the results, but county and state officials said they would not give any additional information until a news conference in Buffalo scheduled at 11 a.m. Sunday.
The news of the three cases came amid a whirlwind of reports Saturday of new cases throughout the state:
• The state's two first coronavirus-related deaths were reported Saturday, both from downstate.
• Monroe County was placed under a state of emergency after a second person there was diagnosed with the disease. Orleans, Wyoming and Genesee counties also declared emergencies.
• And New York State now has 613 positive coronavirus cases, Cuomo said.
The governor said the number of new reported cases is likely to rise as the state expands its testing capacity. That doesn’t mean the virus is spreading faster, he said, just that the state soon will have an accurate picture of its reach.
“The more tests we take, the more that number will go up,” Cuomo told reporters.
The rapidly increasing number of positive cases only confirmed what state and county officials and public health experts have been warning for weeks – that COVID-19 is here and it's spreading.
The tests of the Erie County residents were performed by the Erie County Public Health Lab and completed late Saturday afternoon.
Erie County Department of Health epidemiologists "are working to identify the close contacts of these individuals and to place those close contacts in mandatory quarantine to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms," the Erie County Health Department said in a statement issued Saturday night.
But county officials did not give any other details, such as their conditions, where the patients lived, where they had been and whether they had contracted the virus while traveling or through community transmission.
"We have been planning and preparing for this eventuality," Mayor Byron W. Brown said late Saturday.
The lack of publicly available details about the Erie County cases unnerved some residents, who wondered on social media where those people had been.
"As these cases grow I will request that the public be advised immediately, this is a pandemic not the common cold," tweeted Common Council President Darius Pridgen, who said he learned of the positive results through news reports. "I too will have another restless night hoping and praying we are all doing the right things on behalf of our parishioners and community."
First deaths in New York
Cuomo, speaking to reporters Saturday evening, confirmed there have been two deaths in New York State related to the virus.
The state’s first death was an 82-year-old woman who died Friday in a New York City hospital, Cuomo said earlier in the day.
She was admitted to a Brooklyn hospital on March 3. The woman had emphysema, for which she had previously been hospitalized.
The second death was a 65-year-old man from Rockland County "who had multiple health problems," Cuomo said in a second call with reporters.
"After he passed and they did the autopsy, they identified coronavirus," Cuomo said. "This is what we have been talking about quote unquote vulnerable populations – underlying illnesses that can be aggravated by pneumonia."
Two cases in Rochester area
Monroe County Executive Adam Bello declared the state of emergency during a Saturday morning news conference in which officials said a woman in her 60s tested positive for COVID-19 and is in stable condition at Unity Hospital in the Rochester suburb of Greece.
Monroe County Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza said there appears to be no travel-related link to how she contracted COVID-19.
“I believe this is our first example of local transmission,” he said.
Mendoza said the woman works at Arcadia Middle School in Greece; that she became symptomatic on March 4 and she worked March 5 and 6. Mendoza also said she attended services at St. Joseph Ukrainian Church in Irondequoit on March 1.
Officials said that, to their knowledge, the second case was apparently unrelated to the county’s first case or a group of students under quarantine at SUNY Brockport.
Monroe County officials also hope to contact four people who rode a Greyhound bus with the Rochester man who was the county’s first case of coronavirus disease.
The Rochester man who tested positive for COVID-19 had traveled to Italy, and after returning to Rochester he self-isolated and reported himself to the health department. Mendoza said Saturday morning that the man remains in good health, is in quarantine in his home and that no people close to him had tested positive for the disease.
County officials said they had successfully contacted seven other riders who got off the bus with the patient, and that those seven were asymptomatic and in quarantine as of Friday night.
There are four additional passengers who Monroe County investigators have been unable to reach, and officials say it is important to make contact with all of them to take precautionary action. The Greyhound bus was No. 252, which originated at the Port Authority Bus Station in New York City and made 10 stops, traveling through Pennsylvania and then north through upstate New York, including Buffalo, and terminated in Toronto.
Officials said they had video evidence that the man was wearing a mask and gloves while riding on the bus. Anyone who may have been on that bus or knows someone who was on that bus is asked to contact Monroe County at 585-753-5164 (during business hours) or 585-753-5905 (nights and weekends).
Daemen College sent out a notice late Saturday saying one of their students was among those bus passengers and that the student was asymptomatic and was being monitored.
More tests, more positives
New York, as with the rest of the world, is bracing for a lengthy, unprecedented fight to rein in the coronavirus.
“At the end of the day, which is in three months, six months, nine months, the infection rate will be massive. We know that,” Cuomo said.
However, the governor said, it’s important not to let false rumors or understandable public worry run unchecked.
“Information and facts defeat fear, and the anxiety in society is obviously an issue we have to address as much as we have to deal with the virus at this point,” Cuomo said.
Among the new cases testing positive for COVID-19 were two Assembly members from Brooklyn – Helene Weinstein and Charles Barron.
"It is important to note that both members have not been in Albany since early March for separate reasons," Heastie said in a tweet.
Cuomo said the Capitol would be closed to visitors effective Sunday and that an intensive cleaning of the Capitol and the Legislative Office Building were underway.
"All legislators and staff that have come in contact with these members will be tested to ensure the safety of everyone," Cuomo said.
News staff reporter Stephen Watson contributed to this story.
Story topics: Covid-19