BUFFALO, NY (WIVB) – On Monday afternoon, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz announced that a mask mandate will take effect Tuesday.
From 6 a.m., masks must be worn in all public, indoor facilities. This is in response to the rise in cases in Erie County.
It is part of a four-phase plan that Poloncarz announced on Monday. But with this plan, Poloncarz hopes not to make it to the remaining stages.
“None of us wanted to do phase one… but we feel we should,” said Poloncarz.
He says that if the mask mandate does not lead to a decrease in the number of cases and hospitalizations, further phases could come into effect.
Phase two would call for vaccinations, phase three would mean capacity constraints and phase four would mean shutdowns.
Week by week, cases of COVID-19 in Erie County are up 22 percent. And in four weeks they have doubled.
While there have been very few recent cases in nursing homes, community transmission of COVID-19 is widespread.
Hospitals are feeling the pressure. At his conference, the County Executive said these facilities are close to capacity. Specifically, he says that 91 percent of hospital beds are full.
Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein says hospital emergency room wait times can sometimes be 8-12 hours, and the Delta variant is “spreading like wildfire.”
On Monday, the city of Tonawanda made masks mandatory in all city facilities. This policy was announced on Friday as a measure to protect residents and employees.
MORE | Masks are mandatory in all Tonawanda city facilities from Monday
In another announcement made last week, Erie County changed its policy regarding quarantine after exposure to COVID-19.
County residents who have close contact with a COVID-positive person and have not been fully vaccinated can be quarantined for seven full days after their last exposure to COVID-19.
But this is only under the conditions that no symptoms are reported during the daily monitoring and a diagnostic test is negative. The test must be taken within 48 hours before the end of the scheduled quarantine period.
MORE | Read more about acceptable tests here.
School leaders have noted the rise in cases, but a number of districts have spoken out in favor of continuing personal learning.
“Any increase in the cases we report is in almost all cases contracted outside the school environment,” said Michael Cornell, Superintendent of the Hamburg School District.
MORE | WNY school districts tackle rise in COVID cases, say distance learning is a last resort
Vaccination rates continue to rise across the country. Around the time of Poloncarz’s announcement, Governor Kathy Hochul informed that 90 percent of adults in New York City have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“We know the means to stop the spread of COVID: get vaccinated, get the booster if you’re already vaccinated, and please stay home if you feel sick,” Hochul said. “The vaccine and booster are safe, free and widely available. Don’t put it off any longer.”
Evan Anstey is an Associated Press Award and Emmy-nominated digital producer who has been on the News 4 team since 2015. View more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.