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Erie County to distribute thousands of KN95 masks to the public

With the omicron variant detected in Erie County, the county plans on distributing 400,000 KN95 masks starting this week.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Erie County, the Erie County Department of Health is planning on distributing thousands of KN95 masks to the public.

According to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, the omicron variant of COVID-19 has been detected in the county. Poloncarz says the new variant was first identified by the University at Buffalo's genetic sequencing program from local samples collected between Dec. 7 and Dec. 10.

"I want people to understand that the big spikes we're seeing are probably being driven by omicron," Poloncarz said.

Poloncarz says omicron is two to three times more transmissible than the delta variant and other earlier variants of COVID-19. According to Erie County Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein, the omicron variant is basically more transmissible than the measles and is currently the dominant strain of COVID-19 in Western New York. 

With the omicron variant detected in Erie County, the county plans on distributing 400,000 KN95 masks starting this week. The Erie County Department of Health will be giving out the masks at COVID-19 test sites and vaccine clinics. In addition, the county's social services and senior services departments will be handing out masks along with the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library branches, municipal emergency managers, local nonprofit agencies, and houses of worship.

Burstein says because the omicron variant is two to three times more transmissible, it requires higher quality masks to reduce the risk of infection. Burstein went on to say that some situations have a higher level of risk of infection and require a better, more protective mask. These situations may include forms of public transportation when someone is taking care of someone with COVID-19, and being out in public.

"And it's just not any cloth mask," Burstein said. "We need to have certain criteria in a mask that's effective. First of all, you want to try to get a mask that is the highest grade quality like a KN95, a KN94 — something that is very high quality. Or double mask — wear a disposable mask and a cloth mask. Get as high quality as you can. Also, you want the mask to fit your face really well."

As of Monday, Dec. 27, Erie County recorded a new record for daily COVID-19 cases, setting a new record high of 1,368 new cases. According to the county, 17.1 percent of tests were positive.

Based on Erie County's COVID-19 case data, 5,108 positive cases were detected this week. This is an increase of 47 percent compared to the week prior. Poloncarz says the 20-39-year-old age group accounted for 46% of all cases reported last week.

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