COVID-19: Legislative Update from Erie County Legislature Chair April N. M. Baskin

Last week, residents of the East Side Community reached out to me and shared their concerns about COVID-19. Their concerns centered around the impact of the pandemic on communities who already struggle with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. They were also concerned about medical resources, including testing. 

I want to let you know about the next steps I have planned to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic on the county level.  

While it is clear that our community has to take the initiative to protect ourselves and our loved ones from COVID-19, our institutions must still play a role. Which is why, I pushed for answers from the Erie County Department of Health during last week’s meeting of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. I made it clear that I wanted the county to collaborate on a plan to address the needs of our community. 

*Now, I am pleased to announce that I have had several in-depth discussions with county officials to identify a testing site on Buffalo’s East Side, similar to what has already been established in suburban communities. We are working to develop a site that is easily accessible to the essential employees who live in the 14215, 14211 and 14208 zip codes. Once this site is established, all residents who are symptomatic can be tested. If you do not have a script from a primary care physician, you will contact the Erie County Department of Health to arrange for a test. *(since this announcement Baskin has achieved establishing the testing site at Leroy Coles Library on Buffalo’s East Side you can read about that in previous posts) 

In order to understand the impact of COVID-19 on people of color, we must have data. New York State maintains racial demographic data as it applies to COVID-19, and I sent a letter to the Governor and State Health Department requesting that they make this data available to the public on a regular basis. Poor and low-income communities are on the frontline of this fight and information is the key to saving lives.  

 Staying home saves lives and helps to flatten the curve of the pandemic. But there are circumstances that require travel. Even if we are limiting the time we spend out of the home, we all need food and to take care of basic needs, such as doing laundry or obtaining prescriptions or medical care. 

 With this in mind, I have been in contact with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Agency (NFTA) about steps that they can to protect drivers and riders on public transportation. I have asked them to provide clear markings on public transportation so that passenger will be able to maintain a distance of six feet between themselves.  I have also asked them to consider dedicated routes during shift changes to allow first responders and essential workers to get to their posts quickly and safely. 

For the record, essential workers include those who: 

•Work in hospitals or nursing homes or as home health care or aides to the elderly;

•Work for utilities or for transportation services or in the construction field;

•Do work including essential manufacturing including, food processing, medical equipment or pharmaceuticals;

•Work for essential retailers including, grocery stores including all food and beverage stores, gas stations, hardware stores, restaurants; 

•Provide, trash and recycling collection, processing and disposal, mail and shipping services, laundromats, building cleaning and maintenance, child care services

•Work for banks or financial institutions; 

•Provide basic necessities to economically disadvantaged populations including 

•homeless shelters and congregate care facilities, food banks, human services providers; 

•Work for law enforcement, fire prevention and response emergency management and response and defense and national security

Although social distancing measures have been disruptive and challenging, they are paying off. We are seeing the curve of new infections begin to flatten in New York State. We must all work together to beat this pandemic. Until we have enough testing materials to allow for widespread testing, we must continue to maintain social distancing, and stay home unless we are going to work, medical care or to shop for essentials. I pledge that I will continue to work on your behalf and to keep fighting for the resources our community needs.

Stay safe!