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Erie County plan: No vaccine = no entry for Buffalo Bills, Sabres games

Under the county's plan, all fans and staff in attendance at a Bills or Sabres game would be required to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. — Anyone planning on attending a Buffalo Bills or Buffalo Sabres game later this year may have to be vaccinated for COVID-19 first.

During Erie County's weekly COVID-19 briefing, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz discussed a plan to allow full attendance at both Bills and Sabres games. Poloncarz says the county supports returning all fans to Highmark Stadium and the KeyBank Center this fall; however, under the county's plan, all fans and staff would be required to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

"I want to see that stadium full," Poloncarz said. "I know the Bills want to see that stadium full. We want to return fans to the stadium."

Poloncarz says the county is working with the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres to ensure the safety of those attending the games.

Under this plan, mass testing will not be required in order to buy a ticket, instead attendees will be required to provide proof of vaccination. Poloncarz says this can be done by using the state's "Excelsior Pass" app.

"Our goal is to have a 100 percent full house for the Bills and Sabres starting in the fall," Poloncarz said. "And that's ensuring everybody who enters that facility - the fans the staff are fully vaccinated."

The county executive says this would be implemented for pre-season Bills game with no exemptions, so the stadium can be 100 percent full.

"Now, people are like we have an opportunity to protect ourselves against the greatest viral killer we've seen in 100 years, and people are like, I'm not going to do it, and you can't prevent from going to a football game. Well, we want to ensure the safety of our public," Poloncarz said. "You have no guaranteed right in the Constitution to inflict illness on other people just like you have no guaranteed right in the Constitution to attend a Buffalo Bills football game. It's a license when you buy a ticket. It's granted. You can be removed at any time. Our goal is to ensure everyone in there is safe."

The county executive went on to say he does not believe this policy needs state approval because these are county-owned properties. He says the teams will have their own restrictions in place for staff. Something will be figured out for people who are from out-of-state and can't get that app. Also, he was asked about kids, and he says he fully expects that children 12 to 15-years-old will be able to get vaccinated this summer. They're also figuring out how to handle this for people who don't have cell phones.

The Buffalo Bills released the following statement Tuesday evening:

“As we did last year, we will continue to cooperate and comply with all New York State and local government regulations regarding our sporting events.”

Tuesday, Poloncarz also announced that a new website will allow people to make appointments to get vaccinated at county-run sites.

He says he's surprised we've gone from it being tough to get an appointment, to now in some cases being able to walk-in because there are so many appointments available. He also cautions that we will never hit herd immunity if the number of vaccinated people doesn't go up. So, walk-ins will be announced on a case by case basis depending on how many appointments there are available at each clinic. 

There's also a new online portal to make appointments.

"If you want a vaccine dose, you can get it. The doses are available. The appointments are available, and I hate seeing empty appointments not being used," Poloncarz said. "Time slots not being used. There's plenty of opportunity to get a vaccine from the Erie County Department of Health or the other providers that are out there. There's no excuse now, other than potentially that you are homebound or have transportation issues and you can call our 858-2929 number if you're homebound, and to get on our homebound list, too."

Also, the number of cases continues to go up for 20 to 39-year-olds, many who haven't been able to get fully vaccinated yet.

The county also says it's seeing a lot of transmission in the workplace -specifically places where people in their 20s and 30s work - restaurants, day cares, other businesses with cubicles, and they say the higher rates are the result of a combo of people not being vaccinated yet and their behavior. 

Two On Your Side asked the Erie County executive how the news about the Johnson and Johnson vaccine will impact the county's ability to combat vaccine hesitancy.

"My family, other friends of mine, co-workers. I know of no one who has had a horrible issue where they've required hospitalization or anything because of the vaccine," Poloncarz said. "Some people have gotten sick, I'm not going to deny that, but I want people to understand that the vaccine saves lives. We know that. The vaccine prevents you from being hospitalized. We know that. The vaccine can ensure a bright future for all. If we don't get it, you could die, and the last three days of hospitalization data, 14 people died. And if they had gotten vaccinated, I don't know why they didn't, but if they had, maybe they'd still be alive today."

He says our numbers right now for hospitalizations and deaths are "ugly," and if we want to get back to normal, more people need to get vaccinated.