Erie County executive announces mask mandate

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WHEC) — Erie County is implementing a mask mandate amid a continued spike in COVID-19 cases.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz announced the measure during a press conference Monday.

It is set to go into effect at 6 a.m. Tuesday and will apply to everyone two or older at all indoor public locations where the public is invited in. The examples he gave included stores, bars, banks, hotels, barbershops, gyms, bowling alleys, "everything we have seen in the past", including public-facing employees of those establishments.

Poloncarz said it’s the first step of a four-phase approach intended to decrease caseloads and control hospitalizations.

He said this will apply until Dec. 13, and then the county will reassess.

The next phase Poloncarz unveiled is a vaccine mandate for those dining indoors at a restaurant, going to bars or other entertainment venues, like New York City, San Fransico and other cities have implemented.

The phase three measure would be capacity restrictions, then phase four would be shutdowns.

Poloncarz said if there is a dramatic increase in cases and hospitalizations, phase two may be implemented sooner.

"Trust me, folks," Poloncarz said. "We only want to do phase 1. Nobody wants to go to phase 2. And phase 2 is unnecessary if we act appropriately."

During the press conference, Poloncarz said he told Monroe County Executive Adam Bello what he would be doing, but that he wasn’t sure if Monroe County officials are planning on following a similar approach.

News10NBC took the question to Bello Tuesday. He said for now, he is asking people to mask up when they’re out in public or in larger group gatherings and encouraging people to get their families vaccinated or boosted — but not mandating it.

Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin said it’s part of the state’s new approach.

"What we’re trying to do is look at each county — it’s not a one size fits all approach — every option is on the table — but work with each county to try to make sure we’re doing the safest decisions for those who live in the area," Benjamin said.

Bello said instead of mandates, he has decided to ramp up testing options in the hope that information will empower people to make safe choices. Click here to see where you can get a free COVID-19 rapid test in time for Thanksgiving.

As of New York State’s update on Nov. 21, 2021, Erie County had 119,565 total COVID-19 cases and 672 new positive tests on Saturday, Nov. 20, and Western New York had a positivity rate of 9.65% as of Saturday, Nov. 20.

In comparison, Monroe County had 94,310 total COVID-19 cases and 489 new positive tests on Saturday, Nov. 20, and the Finger Lakes has a positivity rate of 8.58% as of Saturday, Nov. 20.

The United States Census Bureau’s most recent estimate of Erie County’s population is 918,702 and Monroe’s is 741,770.

Gov. Kathy Hochul released the following statement after the announcement Monday:

"I want to commend Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz for taking strong actions today to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Western New York. This is an example of the leadership we need to see at the local level to combat this deadly virus.

"As part of our ongoing engagement with local leaders, I spoke with county executives yesterday from every region of the state to hear firsthand their plans to combat the Delta variant and pledge State resources and support to make vaccines and boosters even more widely available as we approach the holiday season.

"Let’s avert a spike this winter with the tools we know will help stop the spread of COVID-19: Get vaccinated, get the booster if you are already vaccinated, and wear a mask when in public places indoors. Don’t put it off any longer."

Monroe County Director of Communications sent News10NBC the following statement Monday when asked about the county’s plans following this announcement:

"I refer you to the County Executive’s COVID briefing with Dr. Mendoza held last Thursday, November 18, where he spoke at length on mandates. He stated that under present circumstances, he is not inclined to add any mandates. However he is not taking anything off the table should conditions change for the worse. As it stands today, conditions are unchanged since last Thursday. The County Executive also gave his common sense recommendations for safe holiday gatherings:

  1. Get vaccinated
  2. Get a booster shot
  3. Get tested
  4. Stay home if you feel ill
  5. Wear a mask in public, indoor spaces

“Visit for info on free tests and vaccine doses”