Erie County unwavering about location of Eden outbreak

EDEN, N.Y. (WBEN) – Despite criticism over not revealing the location of the outbreak in Eden, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz is unwavering that the county will not reveal the location out of concerns for violating HIPAA laws.

“We don’t release the individual’s name but we also don’t release information that could otherwise identify the individuals unless there is a direct risk to the public,” Poloncarz said Wednesday. “We had the ability to quarantine someone if we feel they are a direct risk to the public if they had COVID-19 and they’re not following the proper guidelines.”

The spike in cases in Eden was first noticed by a resident earlier this month, who then contacted Town Supervisor Melissa Hartman. Hartman contacted officials in Erie County who confirmed there was an outbreak, but not say where the outbreak occurred at.

“It is not our two nursing homes,” Hartman said on August 12. “It was not an irresponsible social setting. That is the two things that I do know.”

There were 38 people who were found to have the virus in Eden. 80 people have contracted coronavirus in the town since the pandemic began.

RELATED: Health Department: COVID-19 outbreak confirmed in Town of Eden

Since then, there has been much speculation about where the outbreak occurred, though WBEN has not verified any of those rumors. The county is being criticized because it previously identified locations such as New Zion Baptist Church in Buffalo as a site that had an outbreak of more than ten cases of coronavirus.

“When we talk about clusters we’re talking about a handful,” Poloncarz said. “We’re talking about less than ten cases. That’s a thing that’s a bother because there’s over 300 cases that happened last week. Last week, we had no cases that were 60 or 70 attributable to one thing. I think it’s important for the public to understand if we believe that there was individuals at risk…we’d be saying here’s the things we want to do to take to give people an opportunity to protect themselves.”

County officials said the outbreak in Eden posed a low risk to the public.

Chautauqua County identified the location of clusters of cases. County Executive PJ Wendel said Fieldbrook Foods is associated with 21 of the 31 coronavirus cases there. Governor Andrew Cuomo said there were clusters at a steel plant in Erie County and two nursing homes.

Poloncarz would not comment on the decision made by other counties and noted that identification of clusters in nursing homes is the responsibility of New York State. He reiterated that people can contract coronavirus at any building they visit.

“There’s a reason it’s called community spread because it’s all over the place,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Poloncarz said the decision not to identify locations of the outbreak came after consultation with the Erie County Attorney.