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Burstein: No early indication if more COVID actions from the county next week

Tom Dinki
Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein speaking earlier this year at a county COVID briefing.

Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein says no decision has been made yet on whether the county will implement more COVID prevention measures next week. That was one of the questions she faced while appearing virtually Thursday before members of the Erie County Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.

Since Nov. 23, the county has had a mask mandate in place, requiring use of a face covering while in most indoor settings. On Dec. 13, County Executive Mark Poloncarz and his administration will review updated COVID numbers and decide whether to move to phase two of a four-tiered strategy to curb the latest spike in infection rates. Under the second phase, vaccinations would be required by patrons of indoor dining, fitness centers and entertainment venues.

Burstein was asked by lawmakers during the committee meeting whether she had any indication how the administration might lean. She replied no decision has been made, and none will be made until after they review the latest numbers next Monday.

“We wanted to allow enough time to lapse to see the effects of the mask mandate, because it's not going to happen overnight with them,” Burstein said. “It takes time, a few days after somebody is infected with COVID-19 to develop symptoms. And then, they will get tested and it might take a few days to get tested. And then, if they do become ill enough to require hospitalization, you know that’s usually another week. So, we had to let enough time lapse to be able to say we could see the effects of masking. So that's why we're waiting until next week to review this week's data to really make a decision.”

The health commissioner also faced questions about state’s vaccination mandate for healthcare workers. Though it was acknowledged Burstein has no say in that policy, she was still asked for her opinion. She affirmed her belief in masks and vaccinations to reverse the trend of COVID infections.

“I think mandates work. And we know that vaccine mandates have been very effective of getting our children vaccinated, when there are vaccines that are required for school entry,” she replied. “And also, as you know, somebody who may have to enter the healthcare system, I would prefer to be cared for by somebody who was fully vaccinated.”

Burstein said there is no single silver bullet solution to decreasing COVID numbers. She told the legislative committee that it remains a combination of strategies including masks, vaccinations, distancing and remaining away from others when one is ill.

Her presentation was generally well received. Legislature Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo, often a critic of the Poloncarz Administration, was among those who provided positive feedback to the health commissioner.

“Truthfully, I think the way that you just explained our approach and masking and everything, in a thoughtful, pragmatic way would go so far with the people that we serve,” Lorigo said. “I think all too often, people see the county executive standing there in his press conferences, telling people what to do. Not talking with them, you know, talking at them. And I think, you know, for me, especially, you know, this morning's dialogue with you has been very helpful. I would hope that in the future, when you, when the county executive are speaking to the media and dealing with people at these press conferences, maybe we could focus a little bit better on how the message is being put out there.”

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.