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Niagara County school districts expect to 'ramp up' masking if COVID goes red

Niagara County Public Health Director Daniel Stapleton (l) and Planning & Public Emergency Preparedness Director Tracy Fricano Chalmers give a COVID-19 update earlier this month.
Niagara County Health Department
Niagara County Public Health Director Daniel Stapleton (l) and Planning & Public Emergency Preparedness Director Tracy Fricano Chalmers during a recent COVID-19 update.

Niagara County's public health director said his county's schools appear pretty unified on COVID-19 masking rules, with districts about to open for five days a week classes.

New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker is leaving decisions up to individual school districts. Erie County has set rules for schools in the county. Niagara County is following the decision from the state.

Niagara County Public Health Director Daniel Stapleton said he can't tell the school districts what to do, but he met virtually with all county districts Tuesday and heard districts are generally unified in their approaches to handling school operations.

"If we get to a red zone — which we are not in now — if we do get into the red zone, they would ramp up their masking and all of those types of things. But, generally, they're all on the same page. They have one priority and that's protecting the staff and the students," Stapleton said.

He said there is great concern out there. His office has been inundated with letters and calls from parents on both sides of the mask issue. But there is no doubt vaccinations have changed the game.

"Look from back when we first started, 117 was the high point in terms of positive cases in nursing homes and now I have two. 50 people in the hospital back in January-February and now I have six. 18 new cases today. Six, seven months ago, I had 400 a day," Stapleton said.

He said almost all of those new cases admitted to the hospital weren't vaccinated.

And with growing national numbers of young people becoming infected with the virus, Niagara County schools are seeing some cases.

"I think that's to be expected," he said. "But we have not been seeing hospitalizations. We, thankfully, have not been seeing deaths. But we have seen a gradual, a very gradual lowering of the average age, but not a dramatic increase."

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.