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As COVID cases rise, questions mount about virtual learning and possible mask mandate

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz says the county will now give booster shots to any adults, no questions asked.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — As we head into the holiday season, COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations show the region is in the fourth wave. 

But, what's different this holiday season, hospitalizations are about twice as high as they were a year ago. 

"We're at 110 percent capacity of that about 10% of them are COVID positive the message can't be stressed enough to protect yourself, protect your family because our systems are strained," said Dr. Michael Mineo, Chief Medical Officer of Buffalo General Hospital and Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital.

For months, hospitals have been saying their workforce is overworked. 

"We are not in a good shape to handle such a surge our hospitals are overstressed we've had attrition of staff to burnout and so forth," said Dr. Brian Murray, Chief Medical Officer of Erie County Medical Center.

Medical officials say people continue to get sick from parties, indoor gatherings, and after-school activities. 

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz says that county clinics will give booster shots to anyone 18 and older, no questions asked. Those adults just need to have be fully vaccinated with Pfizer or Moderna shot at least six months ago or the Johnson & Johnson shot at least two months ago. You can make that appointment here.

There's also been a big emphasis on getting children vaccinated. 

"Among our children in Erie County, it's the 45% that is not fully vaccinated that contribute to 85% of infections among children 0-17 years," said Erie County Health Commissioner, Dr. Gale Burstein. 

Because of the rise in cases, both Salamanca and Ellicottville School went to virtual learning temporarily. 

2 On Your Side asked county officials whether other schools should do the same?

"We're not at a point where we need to have a full virtual learning model this is why we're meeting together today through Zoom is to get the message out to the public," said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. 

There's also the question of whether we could return to any type of mandate on masks and capacity?

"If I have to implement additional mandates and restrictions I will, Poloncarz said.

Medical officials say mandates should not be needed. 

"We should not need mandates, if everybody did what we're recommending here today we should not need mandates we've done this before we've demonstrated we can do it again," said Dr. Michael Mendoza, the public health director for Monroe County.

Doctors say they're also concerned about hospital beds filling up for COVID patients, that they would rather use for other health issues.