Owners of gyms and hair salons in most of Erie County have reason to celebrate.
For the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic started, Gov. Andrew Cuomo released statewide contact tracing data for the months of September, October, and November.
The data shows that small gatherings, or what Cuomo termed as “living room spread,” accounted for the most Covid-19 cases among those people who tested positive and responded to contact tracers.
Robert Mujica, the state’s budget director, noted that 80% of those infected over the three-month period either did not reveal where they may have been infected or the source could not be determined.
Gyms, salons, and other personal care businesses, however, accounted for much fewer cases, the governor said.
As a result, Cuomo announced on Friday that gyms, salons, and other personal-care businesses in an “orange zone” can re-open, but only at 25% capacity and with weekly testing of employees for Covid-19. (Later Friday, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said gyms would be held to 25% capacity, while salons and other personal-care businesses can re-open at 50% capacity.)
“Gyms are one of the lowest known spreaders,” Cuomo said.
The share of the exposure source tied to gyms registered at 0.06%, compared with 74% at small social gatherings.
The share of exposure source tied to hair salons and other personal-care businesses registered at 0.14%.
Cuomo said the percentages were “much worse” earlier in the pandemic, but he didn’t cite any specifics.
“Don’t waste time on areas that are not generators,” he said.
Many gym and personal-care business owners believed they were being unfairly targeted by the Cuomo administration, which until Friday had not released any data on contact tracing that showed these businesses are high risk.
Dana Burgio, owner of Salon La Moda in the Town of Tonawanda, is one of those business owners. She said her salon got bombarded with calls from customers as soon as Cuomo made the announcement.
“I’ll take 25% capacity over nothing,” Burgio said. (Later Friday, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said gyms would be held to 25% capacity, while salons and other personal-care businesses can re-open at 50% capacity.)
“We re going to open as soon as possible.”
The data, Cuomo said, showed that the increased Covid-19 testing, reduced occupancy, and other safety mandates that the state enacted before these businesses could re-open helped to reduce infections at these businesses.
“And again, small gatherings are the greatest individual issue,” Cuomo said.
“And we believe this is going to continue to increase over the holidays.”
Bill Lia, chairman of New York State Fitness Alliance, said gyms have proven that “by following strict protocols, including mask wearing at all times, New Yorkers can work out without contributing significantly to the spread of the virus.”
“Allowing gyms and fitness centers to remain open in “orange zones” will allow these facilities to advance their members’ health while following strict protocols to prevent the spread of Covid-19.”
The share of exposure source linked to restaurants and bars registered at 1.43%.
Any restaurants and bars in Erie County that are in an “orange zone” are still restricted to take-out, delivery and outdoor dining, with no more than four people at a table.
Cuomo said the federal government must provide aid to restaurants and bars.
Western New York’s positive rate is 7.2%, compared with the statewide positive rate of 4.98%.
Cuomo said the rate of transmission stands at 1.3, which means one person with Covid-19 will infect 1.3 additional people.
“Once that number is over 1, you’re in a problematic state,” he said.
While Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations in Western New York have shattered daily records, Cuomo said there appears to be a flattening of the numbers.
State data showed that 73% of the hospital beds in Western New York are being used. The percentage is even higher in Erie County, where county officials said 84% of the hospital beds are being used.
The governor cautioned that if hospitals become overwhelmed, “you have no choice but to close down the economy.”
“You cannot overwhelm the hospital system,” he said.
“The situation in the hospitals is better than it has been in the past. Compared to the spring, we have 30% fewer people in ICU. We have 50% fewer people intubated.”