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Months-long fight expected in battle against the virus

Not just a few weeks – months. Both the governor and the Erie County executive said Saturday that they believe the Covid-19 pandemic will last for "months" and that the fight against coronavirus is just beginning.

There are now more than 10,000 confirmed cases in the state – half the nation's total, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday.

Western New York saw more evidence of the spread Saturday. Erie County reached its 56th confirmed case. Niagara County announced nine. In a troubling development, one of those Niagara cases is a 33-year-old North Tonawanda man now in an intensive care unit at a local hospital.

Making sure there are enough hospital beds for the expected crush of coronavirus patients has been a top priority for state and local authorities. There are 50,000 ICU beds in the state now. Cuomo wants to grow that to at least 70,000.

Hospital systems in Buffalo-Niagara continue to prepare. DeGraff Memorial, which stopped all inpatient care on New Year's Day, may be reopened as a hospital, Kaleida Health said Saturday. That followed Catholic Health's announcement that its St. Joseph Campus would be turned into a Covid-19 patient-only facility.

Also, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said a shipment of new Covid-19 tests was expected on Tuesday – after announcing they were down to their last 15, which were being reserved for the most dire of situations.

Nationally, President Trump declared New York a disaster area, which clears the way for federal aid.

Saturday capped a surreal week for Western New Yorkers. As businesses, schools and everyday life shut down, people have found new ways to connect – while keeping six feet apart.

Students did their math and English lessons on laptops propped up on kitchen counters as teachers navigated online platforms.

Grandparents, barred from maternity units, met their new grandbabies by Skype.

Yet isolation was sure to grow, as all non-essential businesses in the state were to close by Sunday night.

That included barbershops, told to close by 8 p.m. Saturday. When Jerry Daniels Jr. opened the doors to his Jefferson Avenue storefront Saturday morning, people were already waiting outside for their last haircut.

"Oh yeah, just like at the supermarket," said Daniels.

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