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As mask rules ease, health officials still encourage vaccinations

Mask requirements are continuing to ease across New York State for those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Still,  some are questioning the policy while COVID infections remain prevalent. "About 95 million Americans are fully immunized (against COVID-19) right now. About 9,200 cases of breakthrough infection have been reported.," said Dr. Nancy Nielsen, Senior Associate Dean for Health Policy at UB's Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. That puts the infection rate for those vaccinated at .01 percent. "That's really important and should reassure us that if we get vaccinated, we should be good to go."

A visible case of "breakthrough infection" involves the New York Yankees. Multiple members of the team's traveling party, including one player, tested positive for COVID-19 though all had received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

"The question is: Is this a new variant?" Nielsen said.

"Importantly, all but one of those nine people on the Yankees organization had no symptoms."

Nielsen continues to encourage residents to get vaccinated even as infection rates lower. Emerging variants of the virus, she says, are a threat.

"There is one new one (a variant) of concern and that's the one that is raging in India and Nepal right now," Nielsen said. 

"That Indian variant has now been found in 44 of the U.S. states. About three percent of the cases are this Indian variant."

The "UK variant" is now the dominant strain in the United States.

"We know that (the Indian variant) seems to be more transmissible, but it's not clear if it's more lethal."

Initial studies, Nielsen says, show vaccines are proving to be effective against most variants.

"That doesn't mean there won't be a new variant that would escape that," Nielsen warned.

"That's the reason we all need to get vaccinated pretty quickly so we stop these variants from developing."

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Jay joined Buffalo Toronto Public Media in 2008 and has been local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" ever since. In June, 2022, he was named one of the co-hosts of WBFO's "Buffalo, What's Next."

A graduate of St. Mary's of the Lake School, St. Francis High School and Buffalo State College, Jay has worked most of his professional career in Buffalo. Outside of public media, he continues in longstanding roles as the public address announcer for the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League and as play-by-play voice of Canisius College basketball.