BUFFALO, N.Y. — The latest COVID-19 data shows that Erie County and parts of Western New York are trending in the wrong direction, as masks are being recommended in Erie and Niagara counties.
There are questions about what it would take to trigger a mask mandate in Erie County. Niagara County has signaled it has no plans of actively recommending people wear masks, but officials there say they are monitoring hospitalizations.
According to the Erie County Health Department, new COVID cases are up 80% in the last two weeks. But, Erie County's 7-day rolling average is still relatively low, slightly over 3%.
There are now 40 COVID hospitalizations in the county -- four times higher than several weeks ago -- but still a lot lower than where COVID hospital admissions were at during other points in the pandemic.
The CDC has already recommended indoor mask-wearing regardless of vaccinations status in areas of substantial and high transmission of the virus. Erie and Niagara counties have been designated areas of substantial transmission.
But, what about a mask mandate here?
"I don't have a specific number, it's going to depend on cases as well as hospitalizations, so we're not going to say you hit this mark and then that's it," said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
2 On Your Side asked whether the county executive could mandate masks?
"Yes, I can mandate masks indoors, I have the power under Public Officer's Law, there's still a State of Emergency in Erie County," Poloncarz said.
This week, New York City announced plans to mandate COVID vaccinations later this month for indoor dining, gyms, and performances.
What about here?
"I don't think we're in that position, yet, and before I would mandate vaccinations for private establishments indoors, we would mandate mask-wearing," Poloncarz said.
County officials are focused on the Monday reopening of the U.S.-Canada border to fully vaccinated Americans, who are also required to test negative for the virus, within 72 hours before getting to the border.
"So, starting this Friday, you'll be able to call and make an appointment to get a test this coming Monday, so again we're offering rapid testing and offering the type of rapid testing that will make you eligible if you're negative to get across the border," said Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein.
"Yes, we have increased staff doing testing and we are anticipating increased calls, there are other locations outside Erie County government where you can get tested," Poloncarz said.
Other agencies that offer COVID testing include urgent care centers, hospitals, and pharmacies.
Make sure you check around to see what works for you, pharmacies offer free COVID testing.