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Hochul calls Western New York the 'epicenter' of state fight against COVID-19

Hochul said the region can return to lower positivity rates, or it can end up in a situation where 'draconian' shutdown measures might need to be implemented.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said Western New York is at a turning point in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a joint press conference Friday with Hochul, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, Hochul said that the region can go back to one month ago, when positivity rates were held in check, or it can end up in a situation where "draconian" shutdown measures might need to be implemented.

"It's not up to us. It's up to the people in this region," Hochul said, adding that Western New York is now the epicenter of the pandemic in New York State.

The news conference also included University at Buffalo doctors and it was held at the UB Jacobs School Of Medicine.

"When you're making points about science and data, there's no better place to be," Hochul said, asking the region to respond as a "united front in combatting this deadly virus. And the reality is, the situation is very dire."

Hochul said the numbers are going "far too high, far too quickly." She cited COVID spikes in states such as Texas and North Dakota as a warning for New York State when it comes to hospitals dealing with more cases.

Among the good news: she cited New York's testing numbers. There were more than 200,000 COVID tests conducted on Thursday.

More needs to be done, she said, and that can only happen through action.

"Businesses are open today, tomorrow, but what will next week bring?" she said.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Hochul warned people across the region of "living room spread."

Hochul explained: "Your guard goes down when you're with family and friends. You think, how could my friend who's going to watch the Bills game with me in my backyard and come inside for a drink if it gets cold out? How could they possibly have the virus? They're my friend. How could my mother-in-law have the virus? She's my family member.

"The truth is, where do you think it's coming from? Where do you think it's coming from? It has now been isolated in many areas to know that it's coming from your own home, and that's a scary thought."

With Thanksgiving coming up, elected officials and health leaders are urging community members to spend the holiday with just their immediate families. 

"We're not doing this to ruin people's Thanksgivings, or as some people say to 'cancel Thanksgivings.' No, that's not the case. But you don't want to be the family next year when you're at the Thanksgiving table who's missing a member of your family because your family member died of COVID-19 in the meantime," Poloncarz said.

Poloncarz also reiterated if you're sick, stay home, even if you don't know it's COVID-19.

Local and state leaders say if everyone follows the guidelines, Western New York can turn this around. 

"We can save lives if we work through this together," Poloncarz said.

Hochul added, "This is our call to action and I do not expect to be disappointed in how this community responds."

Area leaders reminded residents of Gov. Andrew Cuomo repeated warnings that a rise in COVID-19 cases have come from bars, restaurants, and gyms being open. Restrictions going into effect tonight will shut down those businesses at 10 p.m. across the state.