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Health expert weighs in on mask mandate & State of Emergency

"We're still in high rate of transmission area"
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Posted at 5:14 PM, Feb 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-23 17:14:26-05

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — It's been nearly a month since Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein hosted a COVID news briefing.

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Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz at a news briefing January 25.

But the county does share updates every day on COVID-19 positivity, hospitalization and death rates.

Tuesday County Executive Poloncarz sent out a Tweet saying if the county's positivity rate falls below three percent, the mask mandate at all county buildings could be lifted by next week.

“I think that's quite reasonable for him to do. There are not mandates everywhere else, although it's left to businesses if they want to have a mask mandate,” replied Dr. Nancy Nielsen, senior associate dean for health policy, Jacobs School of Medicine.

Dr. Nielsen reacted to the metrics considered for lifting the mask mandate in county buildings.

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Dr. Nancy Nielsen, senior associate dean for health policy, Jacobs School of Medicine, Zoom interview.

“If indeed the mandate in the county buildings comes down for the masks wearing — as a health leader are you concerned — what would be out there to be spread?” Buckley asked.

“I think probably the wise thing to do for an individual, until spring, is to wear a mask when you are out in public, simply because you don't know who is vaccinated or not. You don't know who's infected and asymptomatic or not,” Dr. Nielsen responded.

Nationwide COVID cases have plunged 90-percent and hospitalizations almost 60-percent , but there are still 2,300 deaths a day in the U.S.

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Dr. Nancy Nielsen, senior associate dean for health policy, Jacobs School of Medicine, Zoom interview.

“Even as the curve is bending down, there are still going to be deaths,” said Dr. Nielsen. “The bottom line message is — things are dramatically improving around the country and locally, but we're still in high rate of transmission area. But hopefully we will be out of that before long.”

The county executive also stated even if the mask mandate is lifted, the state of emergency would “remain in effect,” but he would revisit the issue in early March.

Poloncarz signed this extension of the state of emergency earlier this month.

“This is not about whether there's a state of emergency — it's whether the pandemic is done with us and it's not yet,” Dr. Nielsen said. “It’s not about state’s of emergency — this is about common sense.”

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COVID home test kits.

Dr. Nielsen says the number of cases recorded in Erie County is “artificially low” because not everyone testing at home is reporting positive cases to the health department.

“They’re supposed to report a positive test to the health department, but they’re to all doing that,” remarked Dr. Nielsen.

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Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein.

I did reach out to the county executive and county health commissioner for comment, but both were not available for an interview.