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To mask or not to mask, that is the question

Erie County / YouTube
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz provides a COVID-19 briefing Tuesday.

The long fight against COVID is more and more becoming a debate about when to wear or not wear a mask.New York State has now joined the Centers for Disease Control recommendations to ease mask requirements, indoors and outdoors. But that's where it starts getting complicated. Erie County officials spent their Tuesday briefing trying to clarify the current requirements.

Credit Erie County Department of Health

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said anyone visiting a county building has to wear a mask. Some county workers have to wear masks all the time if they interact with the public and others have to wear masks some of the time.

Poloncarz said there are public and private rules.

"Private venues may establish higher regimens, a higher standard of care, so to speak. So they can require everyone, regardless of whether or not they have been vaccinated, to wear a mask," he said. "So shopping centers, movie theaters, bars, restaurants can follow the same standard as before and say, 'Okay, you can take your mask off when you get to the table.'"

What does that mean for customers?

"If they have a customer who is very angry and refuses to wear a mask, I would just remind the customers that the owner of the establishment, the private establishment, can set their limits. They can say a mask is required to enter in here. Like 'No shoes. No shirt. No service,'" he said. "Well, you know what? They can do 'No mask. No service.' And you don't have a Constitutional right to go into a private establishment and demand to be served without a mask on."

The Buffalo Niagara International Airport tweeted that all visitors are still required to wear a mask.

Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said county contact tracers are finding some "alarming trends" concerning COVID-positive people who don't want to be found.

Credit Erie County / YouTube
Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein talked about the latest COVID-19 trends Tuesday.

She said parents are sending sick children to school when they should be in quarantine. Contact tracers are also finding outbreaks in businesses that aren't following the rules for sick employees by telling them to stay home. Other business, particularly day care centers, are not responding to requests from contact tracers.

Burstein said some are also trying to game the system with "test shopping."

"Somebody is a close contact. They do their due diligence and they go and get a rapid test. It's positive. So it's, 'I feel fine. I don't believe that result. I don't like that number.' And so they go somewhere else and try to get another test," she said. "However, we get the results of every single test. So if we find that you are a close contact and you have one positive test, that's one positive test and that's all it takes for us to issue an isolation order."

Officials said the county is still having problems getting people to be vaccinated because some just don't believe there is a safety need.

Credit Erie County Department of Health

WBFO's Marian Hetherly contributed to this story.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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