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Seeking perspectives on mask mandates and metrics to lift them

A doctor says the annual rise and fall of flu cases, with people getting or rejecting vaccines much like COVID, could be a baseline model for how to cope with it.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Mask mandates that were implemented to deal with COVID have sparked controversy and an actual legal battle for the state. But what would be the right metrics to lead our elected officials to actually lift them? 

2 On Your Side sought the perspectives of a University at Buffalo researcher who helps advise Erie County and local hospitals.

Dr. Peter Winkelstein told us, "We need to learn how to live with COVID. COVID is not going away. COVID will be with us forever. COVID is now part of living in the world."

That bit of grim reality from this medical doctor and health care statistics researcher who helps analyze the data and advise hospitals and officials such as Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who we pressed during the county's COVID briefing on Tuesday for more definitive answers about when restrictions and perhaps emergency orders powers could be lifted. 

There was nothing specific there from Poloncarz or from Gov. Kathy Hochul, who does agree things are looking up with less cases and less hospitalizations.

So we asked Dr. Winkelstein. and he replied: "I think we can come up with those metrics. I think it's going to take a little time to come up with them, and you mentioned, I was talking about the number of cases and how much is circulating. But you're absolutely right, one of the things that we have to monitor and continue to monitor is hospital capacity."

Dr. Winkelstein says the rise and fall of flu cases each year, with people getting or rejecting vaccines much like COVID, could be a baseline model for how to cope with COVID. That is provided there are not more dangerous variants.

The doctor said: "I don't know of any variants that have been detected yet in the world that are so-called variants of concern that are out there yet. So there doesn't ... we haven't detected anything yet like another Omicron variant."

But in regards to that flu suggestion, he made this point.

"I do think that masks will become part of our culture, but I don't think that we're going to need to wear a mask every day, 24-7, all the time," Dr. Winkelstein said. "I don't think we're going to need to do that. But I do think we are going to be needing to wear them at some times."

2 On Your Side then asked, Would It be more of a recommendation than the mandates, perhaps?

"You know, again, this is a difficult public policy question," Dr. Winkelstein said. "But again, if we're looking at overwhelming hospitals or hospitals that are on the verge of being overwhelmed, then you have to talk about mandates."

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