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Erie County 'heading in wrong direction' as Covid-19 hospitalizations hit new high

Erie County is "heading in the wrong direction" when it comes to the Covid-19 pandemic, County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Wednesday.

More people were hospitalized with Covid-19 in Erie County on Monday than at any other point so far in the pandemic, Poloncarz said.

There were 258 people hospitalized in the county on Monday, the most recent date for which data was available.

And hospitalizations increased three straight days, from Saturday through Monday, according to state Department of Health data provided by the county.

The previous single-day high was 247 on April 19. There has also been a slight uptick in the number of Covid-19 patients requiring intensive care in hospitals in recent days, Poloncarz said, citing the state data.

The number of individuals hospitalized represents a key measure for health experts when determining where the region sits on the coronavirus pandemic curve. Those figures also will help determine how soon some businesses may be allowed to reopen and whether any other social distancing guidelines may be eased.

"If our hospitalization number keeps on going up, we’re not going to be able to open anytime soon," Poloncarz said, "and I think people need to understand that because that’s going to be one of the keys – can we control the spread of the coronavirus such that our hospitals don’t get inundated?”

The hospitalization increase shows people are not following the guidelines to limit the spread of the illness, he said.

"We should all be discouraged by that number of hospitalizations going up," he said.

Poloncarz said he does not know whether the increase is coming from the general public or a certain subset of the public, such as front-line health care workers.

The latest numbers indicate the community needs to do a better job of preventing the spread of the illness, he said.

Based on standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state, the region won't be able to reopen anytime soon if hospitalization rates keep going up, Poloncarz said.

"It's as simple as that," he said.

In terms of capacity in Erie County hospitals, half of all beds are currently unused and roughly 41% of intensive care beds are open, Poloncarz said.

Nine more deaths of Erie County residents were also announced Wednesday, bringing the county's death toll to 254. The county also has 3,315 new confirmed Covid-19 cases, an increase of 91 from Tuesday.

Another person in Niagara County has died from Covid-19, officials announced Wednesday, bringing the county's death toll to 23. There also were a dozen new confirmed cases of Covid-19 reported, which brings the county's total to 440 confirmed cases.

Through early Wednesday evening, 302 people in Western New York have died of Covid-19.

"A lot of people aren’t taking this seriously," Poloncarz said, "and I’m very, very disappointed to the point where it’s bothering me when I talk to my colleagues elsewhere, and they’re like, 'You could shoot a cannon down major roads and you won’t find anyone.' Heck, if you shoot a cannon down major roads here you’ll take out 50 cars."

"This is serious, this is real and people are just giving up or saying I’ve had enough," he said. "Well, you know what? That’s going to drive up the hospitalization number. That’s going to drive up the death number."

To illustrate his point, Poloncarz described the case of a recent Covid-19 death in which county Department of Health staff used contact tracing to try to track where the person who died may have come in contact with the virus.

The person who died was a grandmother, Poloncarz said, and the tracing led back to a relative who had symptoms who visited her over Easter.

"We tested that person and they explained, 'Oh, I had headaches and I had a little cough, but I didn't think it was anything,' " Poloncarz said. "They were probably the one who infected their grandmother who died."

"That's what I'm talking about," he said. "Now that person has to live with the guilt that what I thought was just a minor headache and cough was actually the coronavirus."

[Related: Where Western New York's coronavirus cases are, county by county]

[Related: Erie County's Covid-19 cases by town, date, age, gender]

[Related: Erie County's map of where Covid-19 cases are]

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