Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said today he believes a mask mandate for indoor gatherings in Erie County could be coming as soon as the end of this week because of the rise in Covid-19 cases.
"We will have an indoor mask requirement again, possibly by the end of the week," Poloncarz said Wednesday during an Erie County Industrial Development Agency meeting.
His remarks came a day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said masks should be worn indoors in areas of the country where the virus is surging. The increase in cases is a result of the contagiousness of the delta variant of Covid-19 and lagging vaccination rates, officials have said.
The mask mandate likely would apply to indoor gatherings, from bars and restaurants to bowling alleys and meetings, Poloncarz said.
Poloncarz said Erie County has seen a significant rise in Covid cases caused by the delta variant, pushing up hospitalizations from the low levels of early summer.
About 10% of the hospitalizations in the county currently are breakthrough infections involving people who have been fully vaccinated, Poloncarz said, although the number of those cases remains relatively low and affects only three to four individuals.
"We do know of breakthrough cases of fully vaccinated people getting sick," he said.
According to the state Health Department website, Erie County's rolling seven-day average for positive cases is 2.4%.
Niagara County, where the seven-day average is 2.1%, made clear that it will not follow Poloncarz's lead.
“Niagara County (Legislature) Chairwoman Becky Wydysh says the county does not implement any sort of indoor mask mandate at this time," Public Information Officer Kevin C. Schuler said.
"The CDC guidelines don’t call for it," Schuler explained. "If you go to the CDC tracker, we’re in an area of moderate transmission, and their recommendations were for areas of high (transmission).”
"On July 20, Erie County had 20 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents for the past 7 days," Poloncarz tweeted Wednesday afternoon. "As of yesterday (one week later), we are now up to 44 new cases per 100,000 residents for the past 7 days. If we hit 50 we will be in CDC's "Substantial Risk of Transmission" Category."
He didn't say how many of those new cases were among vaccinated people.
Erie County had 403 new Covid cases in the past week, Poloncarz' tweet said. Niagara County has had 71.