The Sunday Subject – February 6, 2022

Welcome to Subject’s weekly news roundup. We present you the essential headlines, local and beyond.

Several Republican Erie County legislators have demanded that County Executive Mark Poloncarz give up his emergency powers.

The legislators argued that Poloncarz should return his emergency powers to the elected eleven member County Legislature. Erie is one of the few counties outside of New York City to maintain a continuous state of emergency since the covid health crisis began in March 2020.  Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo stated, “We all said that we were in this together and were willing to do anything we could to help. That was two years ago, and [Poloncarz] has refused to relinquish control the entire time. He doesn’t want to work with the Legislature. He doesn’t want to work with anyone.” In response, Poloncarz stated that the Erie County Legislature has no authority to revoke his emergency declarations, as the emergency powers are conferred by the state. His administration has stressed that the ability to respond quickly to public health crises is vital, and that it is inefficient to wait for the County Legislature, which meets only weekly, to make decisions and coordinate crucial safety measures. Poloncarz has also highlighted the decline of hospital capacity percentages in recent weeks due to his indoor mask mandate and other health initiatives.

The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center is offering an extensive lineup of programs this month for Black History Month.

The Center features interactive exhibitions that showcase stories of the Underground Railroad in Niagara Falls. For visitors looking to learn more about important aspects of US history, visitor experience specialist Kiara Santiago says the Escape Gallery and Cataract House displays seem to resonate most with visitors. The Escape Gallery contains a full-sized model of the Suspension Bridge (which carried a railroad over the Niagara River to Canada) and its entrance and tollbooth. Many escapees used a covered footbridge, which ran beneath the railroad tracks on the Suspension Bridge, to cross into Canada, where slavery had been abolished. Another display, the Cataract House display, features a video on the 1853 capture of an escapee in Niagara Falls. The capture took place in the Cataract House, a Niagara Falls elite hotel frequented by vacationing southerners who secretly brought along escapees. The exhibit demonstrates, among other things, how the journey and work of volunteers became more dangerous after 1850, when President Millard Fillmore of Buffalo signed the Fugitive Slave Law that put the powers of the federal government (including U.S. marshals) behind the hunt for escapees.

Canada’s Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has been voted out of office following far-right protests in Ottawa.

On January 28 a “Freedom Convoy” of tens of thousands of protesters in pick-up trucks began protesting vaccine mandates, shutting down much of Ottawa for several days. The protests became more extreme as they grew bigger, with demonstrators waving swastikas and Confederate flags. Many of the protesters were supporters of the People’s Party, a far-right alternative to the Conservative party that is gaining momentum. On Wednesday 73 of the 118 Conservative members of parliament voted O’Toole, the relatively centrist leader, out of office, suggesting that his party is shifting further to the right in a possible attempt to appeal to the growing far-right movement. 

Western New York’s poor overall health has been found to be a contributor to higher Covid mortality rates.

Western New York’s Covid mortality rates are higher than most other counties in the state with urban centers, such as those of Rochester, Syracuse and Albany. When comparing Erie County to Monroe County (home to Rochester), the difference is most stark. The vaccination disparity between the two counties is only 2 percentage points, though Erie County has had 1,000 more Covid-related deaths. Those with chronic conditions such as heart or lung disease, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure are at greater risk of serious complications. “All the things that put Buffalo and the Niagara Frontier-Western New York region on the poor health lists are the exact things that led to our increased mortality from Covid here,” said Dr. Sam Cloud, associate medical director and attending emergency physician at Erie County Medical Center.