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Erie County announces mask mandate for all indoor public locations

Move is step one of a four-phased approach to growing COVID-19 infection numbers.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz announced a mask mandate for all indoor public locations in Erie County to start Tuesday at 6 a.m. at a COVID-19 briefing on Monday. This is part of a four phase approach.

"Effective at 6 a.m. tomorrow, for all public locations where the public is invited in, whether that's a store, a bar, banks, hotels, barber shops, gyms, bowling alleys, everything we have seen in the past, everyone must wear mask, including the public facing employees of those locations," Poloncarz said. "If we do that, we will stop the further spread of the transmission."

Credit: Erie County Department of Health

Phase two of the plan would require vaccines to enter indoor dining, bars and entertainment venues. Implementation of this phase would be put in place if COVID-19 case data, case rates and hospitalizations continue to rise even after the implementation of the mask mandate. 

These numbers will be reevaluated in three weeks on Dec. 13. However, if there is a dramatic increase in cases and hospitalizations implementation of phase two could happen sooner.

However, if things stay the way they are now, it is likely that the county would keep phase one in place until the end of the year without advancing to further phases.

Phase three would reinstate capacity restrictions in all public locations similar to what was implemented by New York State in 2020 if phase two does not curb the spread of COVID-19 and hospitalization numbers remain high.

Phase four would entail shutdowns if the actions of the first three phases continue to not work. 

"If we are talking about phase four, Jeff, we are in a really bad place," Poloncarz said in response to 2 On Your Side's Jeff Preval asking what threshold COVID numbers would have to reach to implement shut downs.  

Poloncarz reported 371 new cases and 456 total new cases per 100,000 in the last seven days as of Nov. 21.

Nov. 18 and 19 were the fourth and third highest new cases dates on record. Positivity rates have not gone down. 

The past couple of weeks have seen the highest rates of COVID-19 in schools as a result of community numbers, Poloncarz reported on Monday. 

As of Nov. 20 the number of hospitalizations are up 19 to 249 in Erie County. Of that total, 50 are in the ICU, up nine, and 31 are on airway assist, up one. Of those hospitalized 54% are under the age of 64, according to data provided by the state.

Hospitals have seen a 50% increase in the past two weeks, according to Poloncarz. Of staffed beds, 91% are occupied in Erie County. It is projected that there will be 300 patients hospitalized by Dec. 1. 

"If you are unvaccinated you are really taking a chance," Poloncarz said. He again urged people to get vaccinated. 

Erie County Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein reported that few nursing home residents have confirmed cases, 28 cases have been reported for over 4,000 residents. She attributed this low rate of transmission to vaccination rates at those facilities.