People will soon have to wear masks indoors again in western New York’s most populous county due to a spike in COVID-19 positives and hospitalizations in the region, officials said Monday.
Beginning Tuesday, everyone ages 2 and older must wear masks in all public indoor locations in Erie County, including bars and restaurants, grocery stores, gyms and fitness centers, hotels and banks and hair salons.
County Executive Mark Poloncarz said if the mask mandate doesn’t work by mid-December, the county will demand vaccine mandates for indoor dining.
Erie County, home to the city of Buffalo, registered 456 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past seven days, more than quadrupling the federal government’s threshold for high transmission, according to Poloncarz.
“This is one of the largest seven-day periods we’ve ever seen,” Poloncarz said during a virtual briefing on Monday.
Poloncarz said cases are increasing among K-12 students and staff, with 30-39 year-olds accounting for the most cases. He said the number of hospitalizations from COVID-19 has increased by 50% in the past two weeks.
Hospitals in Erie County reported 249 patients on Sunday, up from 168 on Nov. 7.
About 63% of Erie County residents are fully vaccinated.
But rates are lower in southern and eastern parts of the county: including 38.4% in the 14034 zip code that includes Collins in southern Erie County.
The vast majority of the state’s 62 counties are seeing sharp increases in new COVID-19 positives, from those on Long Island to Niagara County in western New York.
And much of the state, from Saratoga to Erie County, is also seeing a sharp rise in hospitalizations.
The county’s reintroduction of the mask mandate follows Governor Kathy Hochul’s warning last week that a continued rise in COVID-19 numbers could mean New Yorkers will once again face more virus protocols in high-risk communities.
But the governor has not established specific protocols that she could re-establish, including where or when they would come into effect.
Health workers in New York had until Monday to get their first vaccine dose under a statewide mandate that has survived judicial challenges.
According to state data, about 95% of health professionals had a completed vaccine series by Nov. 17.