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Erie County moves into 'substantial' COVID transmission area, Department of Health announces

The coronavirus
Centers for Disease Control

The latest case numbers released by the Erie County Health Department confirm what had been anticipated within the Rath Building: the county's status as a "moderate" COVID transmission area has risen to "substantial."

On Friday morning, during a webinar hosted by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, County Executive Mark Poloncarz hinted that he was anticipating a change in status "later today or tomorrow." It took only five hours for those numbers to confirm the change, reporting a case rate of 54 per 100,000 persons. Under CDC guidelines, 50 people or more per 100,000 qualify as "substantial" transmission.

"The Delta variant is causing this. And the Delta variant is much more contagious than the previous variants or the original version of COVID-19," Poloncarz said during his online presentation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which lists the Delta variant among Variants of Concern, suggested in an internal memo that the spread of Delta is easier than that of the common cold, 1918 influenza and smallpox.

Effective Saturday, July 31, wearing a mask will be required for anyone entering a county-owned building or facility.

“Even with significantly fewer diagnostic tests being done, we have seen a sharp increase in new daily case totals,” said Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein in a prepared statement. “Regardless of vaccination status, wearing a mask is one way to reduce the risk of disease transmission. We continue to recommend that people stay home when sick and get a diagnostic test if you experience symptoms or are a close contact of case.”

Poloncarz on Friday morning told the Buffalo Niagara Partnership that businesses have the authority to enforce mask and social distancing rules within their premises, for employees and customers. He stated the Erie County Department of Health urges them to do so.

"I want people to understand, just because you're vaccinated does not mean you can't catch it, and you could get sick," he said. "We're seeing that. Our contact tracers are seeing it. We also believe that if people are vaccinated and they get sick, they're more likely to actually get tested than people who are unvaccinated or believe this is a hoax. We think there's individuals out there who are walking around with it, sick, who don't want to get tested. We don't know how that's altering the percentage. But our contact tracers are calling people who were required to get tested because of work rules, who are positive, and our contact tracers are having to deal with hostile individuals who are like, 'I'm not sick with COVID, COVID doesn't exist, I have the flu' No, you've got COVID."

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.