OLEAN — The number of Cattaraugus County residents with positive COVID-19 test results shot above the 700 mark on Wednesday, driven by 48 new cases among St. Bonaventure University students this week.
There were 42 new cases reported by the Cattaraugus County Health Department on Wednesday, bringing the total number to 727. A record 52 cases were reported in the county on Tuesday.
Dr. Kevin D. Watkins, the county’s public health director, said he was “almost shocked beyond words” when the record 52 cases were reported on Tuesday.
The county’s seven-day average for testing positivity, as of Wednesday, was 4.2%
Much of the increase in cases appears to be coming from St. Bonaventure, Watkins said. “There has been an uptick going on at the university.”
Students are being tested prior to going home for Thanksgiving. There were six positive COVID-19 test results from campus on Monday, 27 on Tuesday and 15 on Wednesday.
Students testing positive are being quarantined on campus, Watkins said. They will be monitored and receive meals in quarantine as opposed to being sent home where they could spread the virus to family members.
Direct contacts of COVID-positive students or staff will be allowed to return home where they must quarantine for 14 days. Local health departments will be notified in order to follow those students in isolation.
Watkins said health department contact tracers are working with university officials to identify close contacts of those testing positive for the coronavirus on campus.
“We are still seeing a significant number of cases spread through community spread,” Watkins said. Besides the COVID-19 cases at St. Bonaventure, there were an additional 27 community transmissions.
“It’s just part of the second wave,” he said. “We are on the incline on the curve. Like most Western New York counties, we are seeing an increase in coronavirus cases.”
Cattaraugus County “has gotten its share. The virus is a little more pervasive in the community this time and there is an increase in mortality.”
The county recorded its 23rd COVID-19 death on Tuesday after a 77-year-old man died of respiratory failure.
The virus increase in Cattaraugus County doesn’t appear to be the result of a cluster, Watkins said. “It seems to be all over the community.”
Watkins said, “Now is the time to hunker down. If people ever want to take this warning from health officials seriously, now is the time to wear masks, socially distance and wash your hands.”
Watkins said, “This is the fall season. We knew it was coming. Until there is a vaccine, we won’t be able to stop it.”
Twenty-eight males and 18 females tested positive for COVID on Wednesday. Twenty-four were known contacts of a COVID-positive person and 18 did not known where they contracted the virus.
Of the 42 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 30 were residents of the southeast part of the county, six were from the northwest and three each from the northeast and southwest.
Watkins said there are currently 207 active COVID-19 cases in the county. There are 10 people hospitalized with the coronavirus.
Another 394 people who are close contacts of COVID-19 positive individuals are in mandatory quarantine, along with 25 out-of-state travelers who must quarantine.
Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that several communities in neighboring Erie County were moved from yellow-zone designations to the higher and more restrictive orange-zone category.
Cuomo noted that the positivity rate in Western New York is now higher than any other area of the state, with the Erie County towns of Hamburg (9.78%) and Lancaster (9.42%) posting the highest positivity rates in the region.
Orange zone areas are required to keep mass gatherings to 10 people minimum — indoors or outdoors. The orange zone designation limits capacity in houses of worship to no more than 33% capacity or a maximum of 25 people.
High-risk, non-essential businesses, such as gyms and personal care outlets like salons, must also close. Dining at restaurants is limited to outdoors only, with four people maximum allowed per table.
Cuomo said Western New York is now feeling the full weight of the pandemic because many of its residents didn’t think the region could be hit as hard as New York City in the spring.
“Western New York never lived the full pain of COVID’s wrath,” the governor said during a press briefing. “Western New York read about New York City, they read about Long Island, they watched it on the TV news, but the numbers were never as bad in Western New York.”
Cuomo said regions and communities have to “believe this is real” before they will truly do what it takes to bring COVID-19 infections under control. He said people in WNY and states like South Dakota are learning to fear the pandemic.
“I believe they didn’t have the same level of fear, and what caused so many people in New York to change their behavior? It was the fear,” the governor said.
The state reported 35 new deaths on Tuesday, pushing the confirmed total to 26,225.