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School mask mandate made official as Covid-19 rates continue to rise

School mask mandate made official as Covid-19 rates continue to rise

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As the Delta variant spreads and positivity rates inch up in New York, the state Health Department filed an emergency regulation Friday requiring face masks for everyone entering schools, as Gov. Kathy Hochul promised when she took office Tuesday.

"We are continuing to monitor the numbers and consulting with health experts, but we need everyone to do their part," Hochul said in a statement Saturday updating efforts to combat Covid-19.

Chautauqua County's average positivity rate for Covid-19 has topped 10%, while the statewide level was 3.32% Friday. 

The seven-day average percentage of positive test results in the Western New York region Friday was 4.13%, the second consecutive day it topped 4%. 

Chautauqua County's seven-day positivity average was 10.4%, the highest it has been since Jan. 15, when the seven-day average was 11.3%.

Chautauqua was one of two of the five counties in the Western New York region with positivity rates of more than 5%. Cattaraugus County's seven-day average positivity rate was 5.5%. Allegany County's was 3.2%, Niagara County's was 3.5% and Erie County's was 3.7%.

Two people died in Erie County, and Allegany, Chautauqua and Niagara counties each had one person die due to Covid-19. New York State reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that a total of 55,453 New Yorkers have died as of Friday.

About half the population in Chautauqua County has been vaccinated. The state reports that 51.9% had received at least one dose, and 61.6% of those 18 and over have received at least one dose.  

Allegany County continues to lag in vaccinations, with 40% having at least one dose. In Cattaraugus County, 46% of the population has received at least one dose; in Niagara County, 58.3% has at least one dose, and in Erie County, 63% have at least one dose of vaccine.

"We came together to help keep each other safe at the height of the pandemic, and we have to keep that collective spirit going while this virus and its Delta variant remain a threat. Get vaccinated, wear a mask, follow the basic safety guidelines – that's how we beat the virus," Hochul said Saturday.

She pledged to issue "concise and consistent" guidance for schools after she was sworn in Tuesday, and she said there would be a universal mask mandate in all schools in New York. 

State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker on Friday issued a determination requiring the "universal masking of teachers, staff, students and visitors to P-12 schools over age 2 and able to medically tolerate a face covering/mask and regardless of vaccination status."

"I'm a mom; I can understand the stress levels are off the charts. So we have to, first of all, have mandatory masks, which is something that is not universally popular, but I think it's an important step toward getting safety in schools," Hochul told CBS This Morning last week.

The Buffalo News: Good Morning, Buffalo

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