Erie County officials short on answers about Covid-19 cases among health department employees

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The health commissioner refused to say if indoor inspections of Covid-19-related investigations are suspended

Emails obtained by News 4 Investigates state that “a few” Erie County Health Department employees have tested positive for Covid-19.

Erie County Health Commissioner Gale Burstein refused to say how many employees have tested positive or how many are in quarantine.

But the emails state that “all staff” at the health department’s Kennsington Avenue office must get tested on Monday at a drive-thru site in Cheektowaga.

Anyone who declines to be tested could be disciplined, one email states. The office building will be “deep cleaned” Wednesday.

The health department has 54 health sanitarians tasked with various jobs, including Covid-19 complaint inspections.

Burstein refused to address whether indoor inspections are being suspended until all the employees’ test results are back. One of the emails states that they expect the results back within “a couple of days after collection.”

“So, anyone who has been exposed to Covid is not going out in the community and if they have to do those types of investigations by phone or by outdoor inspections, that’s what will happen,” Burstein said.

“But Covid-19 is not stopping. We take this very seriously and we are continuing to make sure our community stays safe with Covid-19.”

The emails state that the county health department has most of the employees working from home “out of an abundance of caution” and none of the employees who tested positive is actively at work. The emails also state that all close contacts have been notified and are in quarantine.

A county official told News 4 that any additional questions had to be emailed to the health department. But a health department spokeswoman did not respond to several questions posed by email before and after Wednesday’s Covid-19 news conference with Burstein and County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

Poloncarz said they have no reason to believe that the positive cases posed any risk to the general community.

“I wouldn’t go so far as saying an outbreak at the health department,” Poloncarz said.
“We are in the process of reviewing everything and ensuring the safety of our citizens and the staff.”

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