BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — A fourth wave of COVID-19 has hit Erie County Hospitals. Dr. Peter Winkelstein, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the Jacobs School of Medicine at the University at Buffalo, said all COVID-19 cases they are seeing right now are due to the Delta variant, noting it is much more contagious than the original variant and the U.K. variant.
Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said in the past few weeks, 40% of new COVID cases in Erie County have been in fully vaccinated individuals, but she said those who end up in the hospital are not fully vaccinated or are people who are immunocompromised.
Dr. Burstein said from July through the beginning of September, 50 people in Erie County have died from COVID-19. 20% of those who died were unvaccinated individuals under 60-years-old.
Dr. Winkelstein said if you combine the Delta variant with colder temperatures, Western New York could see a dramatic increase in cases and hospitalizations.
"Come fall, it's going to get cold and people are going to move indoors. That seems to be what caused the wave we had last fall, so it's worrisome there's possibly another wave this fall. Given that we are now at a higher rate of transmission in the community than we were at this time last year, that makes me at least nervous about what's going to happen this fall," Dr. Winkelstein said.
Doctors said because of these predictions, it will be crucial for pandemic-like habits to persist.
The New York State Department of Health said as of Wednesday, 29% of hospital beds and 34% of ICU beds in Western New York are available.
"I'm not suggesting that we have to close all the restaurants and bars and everything else. People need to start being really careful, wearing their masks and avoiding crowds. They need to be aware that we are really in the midst of another wave and are being careful. If they start being careful, you get that lower line. If they're not as careful, you start to get that upper line (referring to graph below)," Dr. Winkelstein said.
Doctors said they are concerned about how an increase in COVID cases and hospitalizations will affect in person learning.
The state health department said 61% of 12 to 17-year-olds have had at least one dose of the vaccine as of Wednesday.
Doctors said a vaccine mandate for students 12 and older would increase that number, but it's up to the New York State Department of Health to make the mandate.
"This is not the first vaccine that is a question about being mandated for school entry. We have a whole host of vaccines that are mandated in New York State for school entry. We also know the most effective way to get kids immunized is to mandate a vaccine for school entry," Dr. Burstein said.
"We do this all the time. There are vaccine mandates all the time for kids in school. I don't see the COVID vaccine as being much different," Dr. Winkelstein said.
7 Eyewitness News reached out to the state health department to see if it's considering a vaccine mandate for students over 12. The health department pointed to what Governor Kathy Hochul said Wednesday.
"I will take more actions if necessary. Right now I'm asking parents to do what's absolutely best for their children, and if they're between the ages of 12 and 17, get them vaccinated immediately," Hochul said.