On November 18, 2020, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that much of Erie County would become an “Orange Zone” micro-cluster. This designation has implications for area schools and businesses under the State’s COVID-19 micro-cluster strategy. Governor Cuomo established this framework to combat coronavirus spread through Executive Order 202.68, signed on October 6, 2020.
Transition from “Yellow Zone”
The most populated portions of Erie County, including the City of Buffalo, were declared to be in a precautionary “Yellow Zone” on Monday, November 9, 2020. In Yellow Zone status, the affected towns faced limitations on non-essential gatherings, capacity limits for houses of worship, table size restrictions for restaurants, and testing requirements for schools. The shift to an “Orange Zone” imposes more extensive restrictions, including mandatory closing of some categories of businesses and schools.
Geographic Scope of Erie County “Orange Zone”
The Erie County Orange Zone includes all of the following cities and towns (including villages within them):
- Grand Island
- Orchard Park
- Tonawanda (City)
- Tonawanda (Town)
- West Seneca
Except for the Towns of Eden and Evans, the above locations were part of the Erie County Yellow Zone.
Based on 2018 population estimates, the towns in Orange Zone account for 93% of the people in Erie County.
The remaining towns in Erie County, listed below, now move into a Yellow Zone:
- North Collins
Together, these 12 towns account for only 7% of the Erie County population,
The neighboring Towns of North Tonawanda and Wheatfield in Niagara County were also designated as Yellow Zones.
Orange Zone Micro-Cluster Restrictions
Under current New York State guidance, areas in the Orange Zone micro-cluster are subject to the following restrictions.
Houses of Worship
Houses of worship of any denomination are limited to the lesser of 33% capacity or a maximum of 25 people.
Gatherings of more than 10 people, whether indoor or outdoor, are prohibited.
Most businesses can remain open, subject to existing New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) restrictions.
The following businesses must close:
- Indoor On-Premises Dining
- Fitness Centers/Classes
- Barbers/Hair Salons
- Tattoo/Piercing Parlors
- Nail Technicians/Salons
- Laser Hair Removal/Electrolysis
- “All other personal care services”
Restaurants may remain open for takeout and delivery. On-premises dining is limited to outdoor tables, with a maximum of 4 people per table.
Public, private, and charter schools must close for in-person learning. Schools must operate under remote instructional models.
Under current NYSDOH guidelines, schools may be able to reopen after being closed for at least 4 calendar days. To do so, however, a school would have to meet stringent COVID-19 testing requirements. One condition is that only students and staff members who have received a negative COVID-19 test may return to school in person.
These new designations take effect Friday, November 20, 2020, except that schools can remain open until Monday, November 23, 2020.
The duration of these restrictions depends on health statistics over the next week(s).
Reminders & Future Developments
New York businesses must continue to follow all State requirements for operating during the coronavirus pandemic. Any business that is open for in-person operations must satisfy safety requirements established by the NYSDOH. If conditions worsen and your area moves into Red Zone status, then all non-essential businesses must close.