Erie County implements mask mandate as COVID-19 numbers rise

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) – On Monday afternoon, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz announced a mask mandate that will take effect for all indoor settings, beginning Tuesday at 6 a.m.

The mask mandate is part of a four-stage approach that includes:

  • Phase 1: Mask mandate for all indoor public locations
  • Phase 2: Vaccine Mandate
  • Phase 3: Capacity Limitations
  • Phase 4: Shutdowns

The COVID-19 data, including cases and hospitalizations, will be reviewed in three weeks, Dec. 13, “if the mandate doesn’t work,” County Executive Mark Poloncarz said.

Based on the data, Erie County could enter Phase 2, which includes vaccination mandates to enter all indoor eateries, bars and entertainment venues. The vaccine mandate would be comparable to larger cities in the United States, such as New York City. The County Executive did not provide a threshold or exact numbers to 7 Eyewitness News to determine whether or not the mask mandate would be revoked, or whether the vaccine mandate would be introduced.

“However, expect the mask mandate to last at least until the end of the year,” he said.

The capacity restrictions and shutdowns in Phase 3 and Phase 4 are similar to those put in place statewide at the start of the pandemic.

The announcement comes as the number of COVID-19 continues to rise in Erie County. As of November 20, hospitals in the province had 249 COVID-19 patients, 80 patients more than two weeks ago. Hospitals have a capacity of more than 90% for inpatients and more than 86% for ICUs. The Erie County Department of Health reports emergency room wait times of eight to 12 hours or more.

On November 21, there were 371 new cases in one day. There have been 4,353 cases in the past 7 days. Most cases fall in the age category 30-39 years. November 18 and 19 are the fourth and third highest dates for new cases since the start of the pandemic. The positivity percentage is 9%.

“If you’re not vaccinated, you’re really taking a chance,” Poloncarz said of the numbers.

According to Poloncarz, the province has also seen increases in weekly rates of COVID-19 cases among students and staff at local schools.

The new rules come as hospitals prepare for the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend and holiday season. According to Erie County Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein, transmission is seen in households and in small group gatherings in public and private settings. She is concerned about the rise of indoor events such as holidays, Black Friday and others.

The plan of the County Executive and the Erie County Department of Health has been fully endorsed by New York Governor Kathy Hochul.

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