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Erie County sounds COVID alarm, ECMC capacity at 100%

“Masking is a very powerful prevention tool"
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Posted at 7:02 PM, Nov 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-30 19:02:25-05

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — Erie County continues to raise the alarm bell on spiking COVID cases. The leaders say it is putting a strain on hospitals in the county.

This includes hospitals in Western New York, which are averaging 90% capacity when it comes to inpatient beds and nearly 87% for ICU beds.

“Hospitals are at or near capacity for inpatients,” remarked Mark Poloncarz, Erie County Executive.

Poloncarz and the Erie County Health Department holding a weekly COVID briefing in Buffalo Tuesday.

Poloncarz says there are less hospital beds available in the county.

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Mark Poloncarz, Erie County Executive, COVID update.

“Hospital patients have increased — COVID patients — that is by 65% in the past two weeks. 18% of Erie County COVID-19 hospitalizations are in the ICU,” Poloncarz explained.

The Erie County Medical Center had all its beds filled this week.

“The 552 patients was capacity — it was 100% — every bed at ECMC was filled as of November 28,” noted Poloncarz.

ECMC has dropped elective surgeries to help ease the burden.

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Mark Poloncarz, Erie County Executive.

The county executive compared the COVID numbers from the same time last year to demonstrate the increase.

  • 11/28/20 – ECMC had 442 patients, 36 in ICU
  • 11/28/21 – ECMC currently has 552 patients, 47 in ICU.

Catholic Health CEO Mark Sullivan says the biggest challenge is staffing.

New restrictions are now in place at Catholic Health hospitals.

“Catholic Health is restricting visitation as far as looking at procedures to supplement the staffing throughout our health system,” replied Sullivan.

But the county executive says there was the loss 112 hospital beds now that the St. Joseph's Hospital campus in Cheektowaga, a Catholic Health hospital, is no longer being used this year for all COVID care, adding to this year’s hospital strain.

County leaders say the mask mandate, that was put back in place a week ago, to help stop the spread of COVID in Western New York, where the positivity rate is more than double the state average, is so important.

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Dr. Gale Burstein, commissioner, ECDOH.

“Masking is powerful. Masking prevents COVID-19 transmissions and masking will change around our hospital census and open up beds,” stated Dr. Gale Burstein, commissioner, ECDOH. “We have the power to change the dynamics of our hospital census and our COVID-19 numbers.”

You need to wear a mask in most public places, but in defending the mask mandate decision, Poloncarz says if you are 100-percent vaccinated, you should be okay.

“We do not want to punish people for being vaccinated and we know that the rate of transmission among vaccinated people is much less than for those that are unvaccinated,” responded Poloncarz.

The county executive says there are extremely high rates in the town of Boston and other southtown zip codes are seeing very high rates of COVID as well.

“Lancaster has been very high. Springville — Eden — Derby,” Poloncarz listed.

Poloncarz says they are very worried about another potential spike in new cases following the Thanksgiving holiday.

“We very concerned,” replied Poloncarz.

Poloncarz says no businesses have been fined over the mask mandate at this time.

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Erie County's four phases.

The mask mandate is one of four phases the county said it would implement if COVID rages.

  • Phase 1: Mask mandates for all indoor public locations in Erie County
  • Phase 2: Vaccine Mandate
  • Phase 3: Capacity Restrictions
  • Phase 4 : Shutdown

But Poloncarz says in considering phase 2, which would require proof of vaccines at businesses, he won't be making a decision on that until they review all the data on December 13.

“We’re going to access the need for additional measures and COVID 19 case data, positivity rate — especially hospitalizations on December 13, 2021. Unless the conditions require an earlier implementation,” Poloncarz said.