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Erie County's top doctor 'concerned' about recent COVID numbers, hospitalizations

'We can only assume if we don't do something now our numbers are going to become much worse this fall,' said Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Erie County's top doctor is worried that we could be heading in the wrong direction as COVID cases continue to rise.

Dr. Gail Burstein held an unexpected press conference Friday afternoon to discuss the recent trends and explain why, with school and cooler weather on the horizon, she says things will likely get worse if nothing is done.

"We've seen a very consistent increase of the number of people hospitalized over the summer with COVID-19 where we should have been seeing a decrease," Dr. Burstein said.

She explained how the big difference this year is the delta variant, the highly contagious mutation of SARS-CoV-2. It accounts for almost all new cases in Erie County, Burstein said, and if you're unvaccinated is as easy to catch as chickenpox.

"So we can only assume if we don't do something now our numbers are going to become much worse this fall and progressing even higher when it starts to get cold," she said.

Especially because the transmission of the Delta Variant is happening among both the unvaccinated (60% of news cases) and vaccinated (40% of new cases) Burstein added. These breakthrough cases she stated are happening more often but importantly, have far less potential for serious illness or hospitalization.

"From our local data the vaccine is very effective at preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19 it is somewhat effective at preventing COVID-19 infections," said Dr. Burstein.

Somewhat but not perfect, which is why she said the FDA is eyeing booster shots for Pfizer and Moderna recipients. Those third shots are expected to start for all individuals in late September. Immunocompromised individuals started receiving their boosters just over a week ago.

Western New York's COVID working group, which is made up of doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers said last week that over 90% of recent COVID deaths have been among unvaccinated individuals. Dr. Burstein echoed those findings and explained that unvaccinated individuals have a far higher chance of having serious health problems resulting from COVID and are more likely to be hospitalized.

So what can be done to lower Erie County's COVID cases?

"It takes a community it takes every single person's effort to do everything they can to prevent infection, masking social distancing, vaccinating and masking, people who are 12 and up everybody should get vaccinated," concluded Dr. Burstein.