The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases among seniors at the Father Baker Manor nursing home swelled from 17 to 39 Sunday.
With the novel coronavirus sweeping through a population particularly susceptible to the disease, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz warned of hefty fines and possible imprisonment to nonessential businesses and individuals ignoring Gov. Andrew Cuomo's March 20 PAUSE order.
"Folks, take it seriously," Poloncarz said. "If we don't stop the spread of the coronavirus many, many more people will die and thousands upon thousands of people will be hospitalized."
At the nursing home, operator Catholic Health Systems and the state Department of Health are developing a response plan, Poloncarz said. Results from testing of all long-term patients and staff are expected anytime.
"They are coming up with a containment plan to prevent the further spread to the other residents who don't have it, as well as what can be done for the care for those patients," Poloncarz said. "We are certainly thinking of them."
The 160-bed nursing home has about 130 residents, he said.
Father Baker Manor has been following state and federal guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19, said Dr. Kevin Shiley, Catholic Health's medical director of infection prevention and control, in a statement Saturday.
Those include restricting visitors, screening employees each day, eliminating group activities and rehabilitation services, and monitoring patients and residents for Covid-19 symptoms.
Poloncarz made a familiar plea for people to practice social responsibility in order to contain the spread of Covid-19. That includes social distancing, which he said was being ignored by some people when he made a recent visit to Como Park.
"Most people appear to be following the guidelines of staying distant at least 6 feet or more, but not everybody was. That's a bad thing," Poloncarz said.
Local law enforcement will now be enforcing Cuomo's PAUSE order, he said, with widespread support from local officials, including Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and Amherst Supervisor Brian Kulpa.
Violating the PAUSE order is subject to a $2,000 first-time violation, with the second offense going up to $5,000 and a year in jail.
"This can be individuals who violate the 6-foot standard," Poloncarz said. "They are writing tickets in New York City for big dollars, and they're doing it in Washington, D.C., and other places as well."
Nonessential business will receive larger fines – up to $10,000 and/or one year imprisonment, Poloncarz said.
"Willful violation of the governor's PAUSE order – and this is directed to the business people out there – I'm letting you know is a criminal misdemeanor that can be enforced by all local law enforcement, including city, town and village police," he said.
Poloncarz said the public can report nonessential businesses that aren't complying with the order by calling 833-789-0470.
There were 1,059 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Erie County by midday Sunday, 861 of them active. There have been 171 people who have recovered, and 27 deaths.
Poloncarz said he believes the number of people infected is only a tiny percentage of the actual cases in the county.
"There are estimates that for every confirmed case there may be 10 or 11 nonconfirmed cases," Poloncarz said. "That means there is at least 10,000 people in Erie County that have it, and probably more, much more."
By ZIP code, the most cases in the county as of Sunday afternoon were 69 in the 14215 ZIP code, which includes portions of Buffalo's University Heights, Kensington-Bailey, Kenfield, Fillmore-Leroy and Delevan-Grider neighborhoods as well as western portions of Cheektowaga. That's followed by 57 cases in the 14221 ZIP code, in Williamsville.
The areas that follow, varying from 36 to 25 cases in order, are: Hamburg (14075); Amherst (14226); West Seneca (14224); South Buffalo (14220); Town of Tonawanda and City of Tonawanda (14150); Buffalo's Hamlin Park and Masten Park neighborhoods, including Canisius College (14208); Cheektowaga (14225); North Buffalo (14216).
Poloncarz also said during the news conference that he is creating an economic development team with representatives from the public and private sectors to help guide the county over the next several months. Co-chairs are expected to be announced this week.
He also said the county's sewage plants are seeing a lot of strange things being flushed down toilets, including insulation paper.
"Only flush down the toilet the three Ps – pee, poop and toilet paper," Poloncarz said. "I never thought I'd be having a press conference having to tell people that."