Business leaders hoping Erie County’s orange zone will be removed Wednesday

Local News

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Business owners across New York State are waiting for an expected announcement regarding COVID-19 restrictions on Wednesday. Without revealing details, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Tuesday provided optimism.

“I think the governor will be making a good announcement for this community and the rest of the region,” Poloncarz said.

Speaking at Roswell Park in Buffalo Monday, Cuomo said with coronavirus metrics improving, the state can start to adjust, open up the economy, and reduce some of the state’s microcluster zones. As it stands, most of Erie County remains in an orange zone while the remainder of the county and some of Niagara County is in a yellow zone.

“I’ll have those announcements Wednesday. But it would be statewide,” Cuomo previewed.

Leaders of multiple chambers of commerce in Erie County said Tuesday they were hoping to see the orange zone across Erie County be lifted.

“I would hope they would not only eliminate the orange zone, but not penalize us by putting us into a yellow zone either,” said West Seneca Chamber of Commerce executive director Joe Kirchmyer.

In December, the state adjusted the microcluster metrics to protect hospital capacity. Cuomo said Monday Erie County’s hospital capacity was at 48%. State data shows the five-county Western New York region has the lowest rate of gross new hospitalizations in the state.

“I think the common complaint that I hear is (businesses) just want to be on the same playing field as everybody else,” Kirchmyer added.

Grand Island Chamber of Commerce president Eric Fiebelkorn suggested he would also like to see government agencies work more closely with business owners.

“The owners here are telling me it feels like these agencies are out to specifically find things to shut them down, all while the rules are changing,” Fiebelkorn said.

Some of the state’s orange zone restrictions have been reduced in recent weeks following court decisions. For example, state officials recently said restaurants in orange zones could operate under yellow zone restrictions, allowing them to offer indoor dining. But other restrictions remain. Restaurants in both orange and yellow zones can sit a maximum of four people at a table.

“I’ve heard it probably from every single restaurant member of ours, over 20 different organizations. ‘Why four at a table?'” Fiebelkorn said.

Restaurants statewide are also still required to close at 10 p.m. Amherst Chamber of Commerce president and CEO A.J. Baynes said owners of those businesses are wondering why they can’t stay open until midnight. That is the case in other areas. For example, in Kansas City, Mo., officials extended the closing time for restaurants from 10 p.m. to midnight earlier this month.

Baynes is among those hoping the orange zone is rolled back Wednesday.

“In the restaurants, they’re looking for capacity to be lifted up just a little bit,” he said. They’re looking for a rollback on the curfew.”

Among other orange zone restrictions announced in December, gyms can only operate at 25% capacity and barber shop, hair salon, and personal care service employees must be tested for the coronavirus weekly.

But small businesses need more than a reduction of restrictions, Baynes said.

“I think the biggest thing of all is people having confidence to engage in the economy,” he added.

Chris Horvatits is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2017. See more of his work here.

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