Health directors issue COVID-19 travel warning | Local News

Public health officials in five Western New York counties have sounded a warning about upcoming school breaks and how travel surrounding them may impact COVID-19 infection rates in the region.

In a joint statement, released Thursday by the Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie and Niagara county health departments, administrators said they are trying to keep students, their families and schools’ teachers and staff healthy.

“Our departments share a common goal to keep the students, families and staff associated with schools healthy and safe, and to keep schools open,” the five public health directors said in their statement. “Reducing the risk of travel-based cases, and reducing the spread of variant COVID-19 strains to and within Western New York communities is one part of our collective COVID-19 response.”

Most school districts have vacation breaks for their students in February and April, and families frequently use those breaks to travel. The county public health directors said that won’t be a good idea this year.

“Our departments are strongly discouraging travel to areas of the country with high rates of COVID-19 transmission, known cases of variant COVID-19 strains, or areas that do not have COVID-19 safety measures in place,” the health departments’ statement read. “All New York State Travel Advisory guidance applies because vaccinated individuals may still be able to infect others following an exposure to the virus.”

The health departments said that anyone who chooses to travel to non-contiguous states for more than 24 hours will need to adhere to New York’s safety guidelines by either quarantining for 10 days following their arrival back in New York or obtaining a diagnostic COVID-19 test within three days of their departure, a second test prior to returning to the state then quarantining for three days and, on the fourth day, obtaining another COVID-19 diagnostic test.

If both test results are negative, the traveler may exit quarantine upon the receipt of the second negative diagnostic test.

The public health directors also pointed out that, so far, the state health department has not “issued any guidance that removes a quarantine requirement for people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19.”

The local health departments called on people who may use the school breaks to travel to New York from other parts of the United States to “heed the New York Travel Advisory guidelines and take other public health measures like wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, staying home when sick and avoiding gatherings.”

The health department warnings come on a day when Niagara County reported no new COVID-19 related deaths. However, the county did have 91 new positive Covid cases on Thursday.

The new cases bring the total number of positive cases of the novel coronavirus in Niagara County, since the pandemic was declared in March, to 13,801. To date, 1,207 of those cases remain active, with 1,177 residents isolating at home and 30 hospitalized.

County health officials say 12,347 residents have recovered from their infections. The county has recorded 247 COVID related deaths.  

Also on Thursday, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center joined the Niagara Falls Health Equity Task Force, a group consisting of more than 20 nonprofit leaders, in an effort to provide the COVID-19 vaccine to minority populations who live in the city and meet state guidelines.

The community-based clinic, held at the Henry E. Wrobel Towers, was part of an initiative supported by the Western New York Vaccine Hub, the group charged with coordinating vaccine distribution across Western New York. The Hub directed that the vaccine be directed to “qualifying people of color with a focus on the elderly and medically vulnerable.”

A second clinic is set for later today, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Doris Jones Center, 3001 Ninth St.

“We are acutely aware of the impact of care disparities in patients we see who are people of color,” Memorial Medical Center President and CEO Joseph Ruffolo said. “Efforts such as this are extremely important in addressing such disparities for those afflicted by COVID-19 and we welcome the opportunity to participate.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many people from underserved racial and ethnic groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19. 

“As our community continues the fight against COVID-19 it’s more important than ever that all of us obtain the vaccine as more becomes available,” Falls Mayor Robert Restaino said. “This event is especially important as it focuses on the populations most at risk.”

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