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Western New York hospitals speak out, respond to COVID-19 surge

Experts agree that wearing a mask is one of the easiest ways to relieve the burden on hospitals while helping lower the curve and protect the community.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — As COVID cases continue to spike and Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to tighten restrictions throughout Erie County, most recently by putting parts of the county in the Yellow Zone, the pressure for people and businesses to buckle down is no joke.

The Orange Zone could be a reality.

National lawmakers and experts have spoken out, local lawmakers have spoken out, and now local medical experts are speaking out about how seriously the community should be taking this second wave, particularly given the fact that there is no vaccine on the market yet (soon but not yet), we are hitting peak flu season, and winter is coming.

Dr. Michael Mineo is Chief Medical Officer at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital and says, "We're in it, we're just watching it increase more and more, and by the time you try to stop it, it's hard because it just gets out of control."

As of right now, Dr. Mineo says Kaleida Health is in a good position. Despite the surge in positive cases, he says they have what they need, so long as the community continues to comply with state and federal safety guidelines.

"We are really trying to get the message out to the community with interviews and as with as much messaging as we can," Dr. Mineo says. "We're also preparing for the patients that do come to the hospital, with routine meetings to make sure we have adequate (personal protection equipment), which we do at the moment, and making sure we're taking all the the appropriate precautions."

Dr. Mineo isn't alone on the front line. 

Over in Niagara Falls, Joe Ruffolo, CEO of the Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, says that he and his team have been working since spring to get out there and educate the community about the importance of testing, mask-wearing, and social distancing.

"We spent a lot of time trying to convince people to get tested, now it's the opposite," Ruffolo says. "Now we are overloaded at our community testing sites with people wanting to come in and get tested."

Ruffolo said in terms of staying ahead of a potential rush, ramping up precautionary measures is also something his team has steadily been doing: holding more meetings, ensuring the right amount of PPE is available, and that staff feels prepared.

"We're eager to receive the new drug therapy that the FDA-approved," Ruffolo says, understanding that "it's a process."

Mark Sullivan oversees Catholic Health as CEO, and like his colleagues, he feels passionately about safety, so much so, that as of Friday, Catholic Health has suspended visitation until further notice. This is "an increased precautionary measure," Sullivan says. No, it is not a state requirement.

"It may not be the most popular decision for those who have loved ones in a health care facility, but we know it's the right one based on maintaining safety for the patients and of course our associates and caregivers at bedside." Sullivan says. 

He tells 2 On Your Side that every case will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Where exceptions are warranted, they will be discussed and the appropriate decision will be made. 

"If you end up in a hospital because you were careless, what are you telling those caregivers who are saving lives? Trying to save your grandparents, your parents, your neighbor?" Sullivan says. 

The bottom line is, as so indicated by these professionals and many around the world, the easiest way to ease the burden on hospitals and to protect yourself and each other is to wear a mask. 

"They work," Dr. Mineo says.