The Full Story: Legislators Baskin and Johnson Report to Community on COVID-19

we recently published an edited version of this report . now you can read the entire story about legislators Baskin and Johnson report to the community on COVID-19

As many of you know, the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new 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. Although we are discovering new information about COVID-19 on a daily basis, we all have an important role to play in stopping the spread and saving lives. Since December, we have seen this virus literally change the world and the way we view community and connection.

As expected, given that Buffalo is the largest municipality in Erie County, the largest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases are residents of Buffalo.  The large number of cases in the 14215 can be attributed, in part, to the high numbers of first responders, home LPNs 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. At the same time, it is vitally important we all do our part to stay home and stay safe. The burden is on us to do whatever we can to keep ourselves and our families healthy.

The members of the Erie County Legislature, our staff and our colleagues in county government are working together in coordination with other leaders in local government to promote public safety and to ensure that your tax dollars are being allocated responsibly to meet public needs during this crisis.

As representatives of Erie County Legislature Districts 1 (Howard Johnson) and District 2 (April Baskin) we strongly oppose Governor Cuomo’s executive 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 without jeopardizing the people of Erie County in the process. This is truly a matter of life and death, and we are all treating it as such.

As your elected representatives, we have been very proactive in responding to this crisis. In March, the Legislature approved spending $5 million to respond to COVID-19. The money will be used by the county’s Health Department to support the efforts of the virus response team that is working around the clock, including buying and acquiring COVID-19 tests, testing agents, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other needs. Congress also recently passed a economic recovery package which will allow Erie County to apply to be reimbursed for the costs associated with combating this emergency up to $159 million.

Regrettably, testing supplies are in short demand worldwide. Our county officials are working diligently with state and federal officials to obtain more kits to test for the virus. The initial shortage was linked to a lack of swabs. Initially, the only swabs that were approved for use by the FDA were manufactured at a facility in Italy, which has been hit by the pandemic. The FDA is working diligently to identify other manufacturers. Testing was also delayed by a lack of the chemical used to conduct the test. After discovering that Kaleida had more ready access to this chemical, the county has been working in conjunction with Kaleida to increase testing capacity.  Due to the global and national shortage of tests, they are initially being prioritized for individuals who are hospitalized and for frontline responders, including medical staff. Maintaining the health of our local first responders and essential workers who shoulder the responsibility of caring for so many of our vulnerable residents, is imperative. The county is also looking into acquiring tests can provide results more rapidly, similar to home pregnancy tests. 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 has enough tests for first responders and the very ill, they will begin tests on those with underlying conditions that make them vulnerable to poorer outcomes if they become infected with COVID-19. 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. Given that 37% of Buffalo residents are African-Americans, we are at a greater risk during this pandemic. We are committed to fighting for equality for our community during this crisis. 

Several weeks ago, Legislator Johnson submitted a letter to Erie County District Attorney John Flynn and the Supervising Judge of the Eighth Judicial District asking them to consider recommending or agreeing 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 and help reduce risk. Chairwoman April Baskin later confirmed in a meeting with the Sheriff’s Superintendent of Jail Management that the District Attorney’s Office has been processing bail applications from attorneys to allow certain prisoners to be released pending trial, to help avoid a viral outbreak in the Holding Center.  The Sheriff has expressed support for releasing certain prisoners from custody to help reduce the potential for a COVID-19 outbreak in the Holding Center and Correctional Facility.

We support the efforts of Citizen Action, Partnership for the Public Good, PUSH Buffalo and Showing Up For Racial Justice, among others, who have called for the release of certain prisoners in the county jails such as those held on bail, those who have served at least 30 days of a local sentence, are in custody because of technical violations of parole, are over the age of 50, or have serious health issues that could make them susceptible to COVID-19.

As of two weeks ago, the Holding Center was at 47% of its capacity of 638 inmates and the Correctional Facility, which can house 884 inmates, 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.  Numerous prisoners have been released on bail applications with the support of District Attorney Flynn and the courts.

Correctional Health nurses at the Sheriff Office are still reporting to work daily. And in accordance with state law, the nurses are continuing to update the medical records of individuals who seek care. 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. This list is not all inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any symptoms that concern you. Most people with COVID-19 have mild illness and are able to recover at home without medical care. Do not leave your home, except to get medical care. Do not visit public areas and stay in touch with your doctor. You should consider wearing a facemask. Separate yourself from other people in your home, in a specific “sick room” if possible. If you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19 get medical attention immediately. Emergency warning signs include: trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion or inability to arouse and bluish lips or face.

There are a number of resources available to assist you and provide answers to questions you may have, 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

Buffalo & Erie County Addiction Hotline: 716-831-7007

24 Hour Domestic Violence Hotline: 716-862-HELP

New York State Sexual Abuse & Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-942-6906

New York State Consumer Protection Hotline: 800-697-1220

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

In addition, we are here to support you all in any way we can. You can reach Legislator Baskin on her remote office mobile number at 716-370-6651 and Legislator Johnson at 716-842-0490. We continue to serve the community and to ensure that you and your family receive the services you may depend on. The county provides a number of social service programs, including services for veterans and seniors. Many in-person meetings have been waived if you are in need of assistance through Erie County’s Department of Social Services. In addition, we are working to have the new Erie County Mobile Services Unit bring vital county services directly to our neighborhoods. 

We want to express our most sincere thanks to Buffalo and Erie County’s first responders and essential employees who are reporting to work during this time of great crisis. We appreciate those civil servants who are working from home to ensure that our local governments continue to function and to provide the services our constituents need now more than ever. We also appreciate the efforts of the Western New York delegation in the New York State Legislature, who have represented and delivered for the needs of our community.

Finally, we want to sincerely thank all the residents of Buffalo and Erie County. 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 over loved ones unexpectedly loss, thank you for being strong and brave enough to rise this morning and fight another day during this unfortunate worldwide crisis.

We appreciate you.