County Executive, Governor’s office spar over coronavirus information sharing

Local News

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz is questioning Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision to share information about two Erie County families who were isolated after returning from Italy.

Six members of those two families were tested for the coronavirus, according to an official in the governor’s office. The results all came back negative. There are still no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Western New York.

Cuomo first shared the news that the families were in isolation at home during a Tuesday morning press briefing. He said the families were from Buffalo. The official in his office later clarified the families were from the “Buffalo-area”.

During a Wednesday afternoon briefing, Poloncarz suggested state officials shouldn’t have shared the information.

“The state violated the law,” Poloncarz said. “We’ve been told what they did was wrong and we cannot violate it ourselves.”

Poloncarz made the comment in response to a question about why the state disclosed information about people in quarantine and the county didn’t. Erie County officials continue to refuse to disclose how many people are quarantined after returning from areas that are high risk for coronavirus, such as China, Iran, Italy, and South Korea.

“If you follow the law, as we’ve been told by the CDC, we’re not supposed to say that,” Polocnarz said. “But the governor announced it.”

Those comments did not sit well with the governor’s office.

‎”State and county health departments in New York and around the country have been routinely providing this information,” said Rich Azzopardi, a senior advisor to Cuomo. “It’s our obligation during a public health epidemic to keep the public informed. Faith in government competence in is paramount in these situations and misinformation undermines that.

“The County Executive should correct the record immediately.‎”

That’s exactly what Poloncarz did in a statement he tweeted out late Wednesday afternoon.

“While it may not have been illegal to release aggregate data, it was probably inappropriate to release identifying information such as the town or location of residence, considering that one of the families does not live in Buffalo, but in one of the other 27 communities that make up Erie County. The County Executive strongly apologizes for any inference he made that was incorrect,” Poloncarz said.

The number of people who have tested positive for coronavirus in New York State is 11, as of Wednesday evening. All of those people live downstate. Nineteen people have tested positive for the disease in Toronto.

Poloncarz did reveal that the six people from Erie County who were tested this week were not be the only ones locally to be tested.

“There were Chinese students at the University at Buffalo who had just recently returned and were put in quarantine,” Poloncarz said. “I do believe there was at least one, possibly two tests that were sampled and sent to the CDC in Atlanta.”

Poloncarz says that testing determined those students did not have the disease. He indicated the information wasn’t shared immediately with the public because it was protected by federal privacy laws.

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