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County told to stop vaccinating patients 65 & older; concerns raised for school break travel

WBFO file photo

People ages 65 and older may receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but the Erie County Health Department has been instructed not to be the distributor. Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein explained this to county legislators Thursday, while also expressing concerns for upcoming school breaks, when many families embark on out-of-state travel.

Burstein spoke to members of the Erie County Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee during their Thursday morning meeting. She explained that most of the doses most recently delivered to the county by the federal government went straight to pharmacies, which have been designated as the distributors of the vaccine to older recipients.

“The state health department is very prescriptive about who vaccinates whom. And the state has directed pharmacies to vaccinate seniors," she said. "And they've told us specifically that we are not allowed to vaccinate anybody 65 and up, and we will suffer consequences if we do.”

The county will instead focus its vaccine supply on people including first responders, police, court officials, teachers and school staff, all of whom are eligible to receive a dose under the state's Phase 1-B. However, the county will fulfill appointments of people ages 65 and over who had original dates canceled or who were booked to received a second dose before the county was advised of the state's order.

During the Thursday session, Burstein spoke briefly this week's announcement that scholastic sports deemed "high risk" may resume beginning in February. There is one exception, wrestling. Burstein, and her counterparts from other regional county health departments, issued a joint statement explaining that out of concern for the greater risk of COVID spread among wrestlers, they recommended school districts either postpone or cancel the wrestling season.

Section VI of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association announced a short while later that they have postponed wrestling season until the spring season, beginning May 10.

School case numbers were decreasing, like those of the general public according to Burstein, but she raised a new concern for upcoming school winter and spring breaks, when many families traditionally take vacations in warmer destinations. She advised legislators that existing state guidelines for out-of-state travel will remain in effect for any students and families who go out of state for upcoming breaks.

“We've been receiving requests from different school districts: ‘Is it okay if we don't have, if our students and staff that travel to Florida for spring break, don't have to quarantine when they come back?’ Like, no!” the commissioner exclaimed. “There's no exception. I mean there's a lot of COVID-19 in our community but there's even more in these other states where people like to travel to that are warmer.”

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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