Legislators Baskin, Johnson Report to Community on COVID-19

The 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a virus that causes respiratory illness in people and can spread from person-to-person. It is more contagious than the flu. There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19.  We all have an important role to play in stopping the spread and saving lives.

Given that Buffalo is the largest municipality, the largest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases are residents of Buffalo.  Residents in zip code 14215 have the highest number of positive cases so far.  The large number of cases may be attributed, in part, to the high numbers of first responders, nurses, and home health aides who live in this area.  We will continue to demand the bulk of Erie County’s resources go where they are truly needed – in Buffalo.

The members of the Erie County Legislature, our staff and our colleagues in county government are working together in coordination with other leaders to promote public safety.

As representatives of Erie County Legislature Districts 1 (Howard Johnson) and District 2 (April Baskin) we strongly oppose Governor Cuomo’s order requiring 20% of our local ventilators to be moved downstate.  Cases of COVID-19 are increasing daily in our region and these life-saving devices must be available to local residents who need them.  New York State is facing a shortage of ventilators because of mismanagement at the federal level.  The Trump administration has left states to fend for themselves and placed them in competition with other states for these life-saving resources.  We are calling on      

President Donald Trump to develop a plan to provide New York with the equipment and the supplies necessary to combat this pandemic.

In March, the Legislature proactively approved spending $5 million to respond to COVID-19. The money will be used to buy and acquire tests, testing agents, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other needs. Congress also recently passed an economic recovery package which will allow Erie County to be reimbursed for the costs associated with combating this emergency up to $159 million.

Regrettably, testing supplies are in short demand worldwide.  County officials are working diligently with state and federal officials to obtain more tests.  After discovering that Kaleida Health had test swabs and the County had the testing chemicals, the County has partnered with Kaleida to increase testing capacity.

Due to the shortage of tests, they are being prioritized for individuals who are hospitalized and for healthcare employees.  Maintaining the health of our local first responders and essential workers is imperative.  We are in constant communication with the Poloncarz administration regarding Erie County’s response to this epidemic, including its effect on Buffalo’s East Side communities.

Once the county obtains more tests, they will begin testing persons with underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable.  From the 1932 ‘Tuskegee Experiment’ to the chronic lack of preventive healthcare and healthy foods in urban neighborhoods, people of color and low incomes have long borne the brunt of abuse and neglect.  Our community suffers chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease at higher rates than our white counterparts.  Therefore, our legislative districts could be subject to higher rates of COVID-19 exposure than the rest of the county.

Recently, Legislator Johnson submitted a letter to Erie County District Attorney John Flynn and the Supervising Judge of the Eighth Judicial District asking them to recommend or agree to the release of non-dangerous prisoners from the custody of the Erie County Sheriff in order to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

We support the efforts of Citizen Action, Partnership for the Public Good, PUSH Buffalo and Showing Up For Racial Justice who have called for the release of non-violent prisoners in the county jails to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.  As of two weeks ago, the Holding Center was at 47% of its capacity and the Correctional Facility was at 39% of capacity, due in part to bail reform, and in part due to efforts to decrease the population to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

We are in communication with the Superintendent of Jail Management and his medical staff and they have assured us there are no COVID-19 cases among prisoners.  Any symptomatic prisoners are being quarantined from the general population and monitored. We are also asking that individuals who lack housing be connected with the county facilities set up for temporary shelter at SUNY Erie’s Flickinger Center at the City Campus.

COVID-19 symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure. The most common symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath.  Please consult your medical provider for any symptoms that concern you.  Do not leave your home, except to get medical care.

There are resources available to assist you and provide answers to questions including:

•Erie County Department of Health COVID-19 Hotline:          716-858-2929

•Erie County Department of Social Services: 716-858-8000

•Buffalo & Erie County Crisis Services Hotline: 716-834-3131

•24 Hour Domestic Violence Hotline: 716-862-HELP

•Meals on Wheels: 716-822-2002

•New York State Unemployment Insurance: 1-888-209-8124 and file a claim online at: https://labor.ny.gov/unemploymentassistance.shtm 

We are here to support you.  You can reach Legislator Baskin at 370-6651 and Legislator Johnson at 842-0490.  We continue to serve the community and to ensure that you and your family receive the services you may depend on.

We want to express our thanks to Buffalo and Erie County’s first responders and essential employees who are reporting to work during this time of great crisis and providing the services our constituents need now more than ever.

This is an unprecedented time in our history, but we see teachers, public safety employees, essential retail workers and others rising to the occasion.  The economic toll of this pandemic is being felt across our community, and we thank those who are supporting and encouraging their neighbors during this difficult time.  And to those who are ill, isolated, and those grieving, thank you for being strong and brave enough to rise this morning and fight another day during this crisis. 

We appreciate you.