BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — On Monday afternoon, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz announced that a mask mandate will take effect Tuesday.
Effective at 6 a.m., masks must be worn in all public, indoor facilities. This does not apply to facilities with a 100 percent COVID-19 vaccination requirement for entry.
This new policy is in response to the rise in cases in Erie County.
It’s part of a four-phase plan Poloncarz announced on Monday. But with this plan, Poloncarz hopes to not reach the remaining phases.
“None of us wanted to do phase one…but we feel we must,” Poloncarz said.
He says that if the mask mandate does not result in a decrease in cases and hospitalizations, further phases could take effect.
Phase two calls for vaccinations, phase three would mean capacity restrictions and phase four would mean shutdowns.
The Bayou Restaurant owner Michael Rottger says he can deal with the mask mandate, but any more mandates could be taking it too far.
“We don’t have the power, the man power to have someone sit at the front door and ask people where’s your vaccine card. We can barely get staffing here as it is,” he said. “I honestly think that they are overstepping a little bit by going to these mandates.”
Week-to-week, COVID-19 cases in Erie County have gone up 22 percent. And over four weeks, they’ve doubled.
Although there have been very few recent cases in nursing homes, the community transmission of COVID-19 has been widespread.
Hospitals are feeling the strain. During his conference, the County Executive said that these facilities are near or at capacity. Specifically, he says 91 percent of hospital beds are full.
Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein says wait times at hospital emergency departments can be 8-12 hours at times, and that the Delta variant is “spreading like wildfire.”
Monday in the Town of Tonawanda, masks became a requirement in all town-owned facilities. This policy was announced on Friday as a measure to protect residents and employees.
In another announcement made last week, Erie County changed its policies regarding quarantining following exposure to COVID-19.
County residents who are a close contact of a COVID-positive person, and aren’t fully vaccinated, can be released from quarantine after seven full days following their last COVID-19 exposure.
But this is only under the conditions that no symptoms are reported during daily monitoring and a diagnostic test turns out negative. The test must be taken within 48 hours before the end of the planned quarantine period.
School leaders have noticed the rise in cases, but a number of districts have spoken out in favor of continued in-person learning.
“Any increase in the cases we report are really in almost every instance, are contracted outside of the school setting,” Hamburg School District Superintendent Michael Cornell said.
Vaccination rates are continuing to increase across the state. Around the time of Poloncarz’s announcement, Governor Kathy Hochul shared that 90 percent of New York adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“We know the tools to stop the spread of COVID: Get vaccinated, get the booster if you are already vaccinated, and please stay home if you’re feeling sick,” Hochul said. “The vaccine and booster is safe, free and widely available. Don’t put it off any longer.”