While several states in the south and west are experiencing significant increases in the number of positive novel coronavirus cases, New York has managed to keep its numbers in check and local experts say it is vitally important for residents in Niagara County and across the region to keep doing their part to keep the numbers low. 

The Orlando Sentinel reported that the state of Florida reported 6,093 new cases on Tuesday. 

By comparison, the New York Department of Health recorded 524 cases on Monday.  

Dr. Thomas A. Russo, an infectious disease expert who is a professor at the University at Buffalo, says the notable contrast is a testament to officials in New York taking a slow and deliberate approach to reopening while consistently urging residents to follow widely accepted public health procedures, such as wearing masks and practicing social distancing. 

“We very cautiously reopened in terms of stages, waiting for both the incidence of infections to drop to low levels and to have certain resources in place in terms of contact tracing, for example, and testing capacity,” Russo said. “So, we combined only opening higher-risk type of activities when cases were low. And we had these public health measures in place in terms of the testing and contact tracing.” 

Russo said the states where COVID-19 cases are spiking, such as Florida, didn’t follow similar procedures. 

“They opened things up that are still not open in New York state ... And almost all of these states either had no mandatory masks like we have in New York or if they had mask programs that were voluntary or even mandatory, there has been a lot of push back in lots of these states because unfortunately ... (the) mask situation has become somewhat politicized,” Russo said.

Russo described this as “the perfect scenario” of factors that could and did lead to a rapid increase in positive cases of the virus in the states currently experiencing outbreaks.

“The only things that could slow this virus down (were) mask usage, social distancing and hand hygiene, and when you have a scenario where you can’t do that ... you’re going to get into this difficult situation,” he said. 

Russo believes the states need to start enforcing mask requirements and social distancing protocols. 

Niagara County Public Health Director Daniel Stapleton agrees and said following recommended health procedures remains the key to slowing the spread.

He said New Yorkers have, for the most part, followed guidelines for mask wearing and social distancing and he believes it is vitally important for them to continue to do so.   

“I think the reason we’re successful is because the public has really taken these precautions seriously,” Stapleton said. “I see a lot of mask wearing. I see social distancing happening on a daily basis ... We didn’t open up everything as quickly as a lot of people would have liked ... but it appears that those gradual measured approaches worked well. And we need to continue to use that same approach as we open even more businesses and ease some of the restrictions.” 

Stapleton encouraged all Niagara County residents to continue to follow the proper procedures, otherwise he fears the county and the region may risk an uptick in infection, hospitalization and death rates. 

“We need to remember the masks, the six foot distance, washing your hands, those are going to still be required for us to have numbers that continue to decline,” Stapleton said. “I worry that people could see phase four as allowing them to do things the way they always had, and we know that won’t be the case.”

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