BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — On Monday afternoon, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz announced a mask mandate to take effect for all public indoor settings beginning at 6 a.m. on Tuesday.
BREAKING: Erie County will return to its mask mandate TOMORROW at 6am per @MarkPoloncarz & @ECDOH. All indoor public locations must require masks. "If that doesn't work" a vaccine mandate, capacity restrictions, and shutdowns "are possible." @WKBW— Ryan Clarke Arbogast (@ryanarbogastTV) November 22, 2021
The mask requirement applies to all public indoor settings with one exception. According to the county, " venues that have strict vaccine requirements for entrance, such as Highmark Stadium and KeyBank Center, would not have to require masks for vaccinated individuals under these orders."
The mask mandate is part of a four-phase approach that includes the following:
- Phase 1: Mask mandate for all indoor public locations
- Phase 2: Vaccine mandate
- Phase 3: Capacity Restrictions
- Phase 4: Shutdowns
The COVID-19 data, including cases and hospitalizations, will be reviewed in three weeks, on December 13, "if the mandate doesn't work," said County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
Based on the data, Erie County could enter Phase 2, which includes vaccine mandates to enter all indoor dining, bars, and entertainment venues. The vaccine mandate would be similar to larger cities around the United States, such as New York City. No threshold or exact numbers were provided to 7 Eyewitness News by the County Executive to determine whether or not the mask mandate would be rescinded, or if the vaccine mandate would be put into place.
However, "expect the mask mandate to at least last until the end of the year," he said.
The plan is to assess the need for additional measures using COVID-19 case data, case rate and hospitalizations, unless conditions require an earlier implementation. pic.twitter.com/MpbOvBb1JV— Mark Poloncarz (@markpoloncarz) November 22, 2021
The capacity restrictions and shutdowns in Phase 3 and Phase 4 are similar to those implemented statewide at the beginning of the pandemic.
The announcement comes as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise in Erie County. On November 20, hospitals in the county had 249 COVID-19 patients, 80 patients more than two weeks ago. Hospitals are at above 90% capacity for inpatients, and above 86% capacity for ICUs. The Erie County Department of Health is reporting emergency department wait times of eight to 12 hours or more.
On November 21, there were 371 new cases in one day. There are 4,353 cases in the past 7 days. Most cases are in the 30-39 age category. November 18th and 19th are the fourth- and third-highest new case dates on record for the county since the beginning of the pandemic. The positivity rate has been at 9%.
"If you're unvaccinated, you're really taking a chance," Poloncarz said of the numbers.
According to Poloncarz, the county has also seen increases in the weekly rates of COVID-19 cases among students and staff at local schools.
The new rules come as hospitals prepare for the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend and holiday season. According to Erie County Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein, transmission is being seen in households and in small group gatherings in public and private settings. She is concerned about the rise of indoor events such as holidays, Black Friday, and others.
The County Executive and Erie County Department of Health's plan has been fully endorsed by New York State Governor Kathy Hochul.
I commend Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz for taking strong actions today to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Western New York. This is an example of the leadership we need to see at the local level to combat this deadly virus.— Kathy Hochul (@GovKathyHochul) November 22, 2021