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3 WNY counties want to ditch Erie and Niagara to reopen immediately

Three rural Western New York counties are asking the governor's office to allow their businesses to start reopening immediately because they have met all the required benchmarks.

Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties want to be considered as a sub-region, separately from Erie and Niagara counties, which have far more Covid-19 deaths and hospitalizations, according to Chautauqua County Executive Paul M. Wendel Jr.

"We are not declaring independence, but we are looking to ask them to look at our numbers in the current situation. We have a uniqueness of all three counties," he said at a news conference in Chautauqua County.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo divided the state's 62 counties into 10 regions, allowing each region to reopen depending on the success of meeting seven criteria, or metrics, dealing with Covid-19. They include hospitalization rates and death rates, as well as a region's capacity for health care, testing and tracing.

Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties have met all seven criteria, but the Western New York region as a whole has met only five of them, primarily because of Erie County.

Five regions in the state met the criteria to begin reopening, including the Finger Lakes and the Southern Tier. Five regions remain on pause until May 28, with only essential businesses operating.

Wendel said the three rural Western New York counties are similar with limited population density, and there is a great deal of economic commonality among them.

"As other regions start to reopen, people have more options, and we have a fear of pushing them out of our local counties and into other counties' economies," he said.

Chautauqua County is less than an hour drive from Erie, Pa., and about two hours drive from Cleveland, Ohio, he said. Five of the counties bordering Allegany County, including two in Pennsylvania, are opening up, Wendel said.

"It's critical that we work together, with a loud, unified voice with our governor's office to allow this sub-region," he said.

Representatives of the three counties were meeting Friday afternoon with the regional "control room" governing the reopening to discuss the proposal, Wendel said.

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