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Poloncarz takes COVID message to businesses as cases rise: they can - and should - require masks

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Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, during a Friday morning presentation to the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, advised businesses they have the authority to enforce masks and social distancing within their premises, regardless of vaccination status. He delivered his remarks at a time the county was on the brink of elevating to the US Centers for Disease Control's next level of COVID transmission status.

As of Friday morning, according to Poloncarz, the county's seven-day infection rate was at 48 people per 100,000. That, under CDC guidelines, makes the county a "moderate" transmission risk area. Having 50 or more infections per 100,000, though, would raise that status to "substantial."

The Delta variant of COVID, he stated, is driving COVID numbers back up.

“Weekly cases have increased six-fold since the week ending July 10," he said. "There were 68 total cases throughout all of Erie County in the week that ended July 10. In the last seven day period, it was 445. It's still low compared to where we were in the winter, but it is growing and it's growing exponentially.”

The CDC currently recommends people wear a mask in indoor settings, including workplaces, restaurants and bars, theaters, bowling alleys, and other places other than a private home, regardless of vaccination status. Poloncarz told webinar participants that businesses have the authority to enforce mask and social distancing requirements, for workers and customers.

“You have the power to do that. You can prevent somebody from coming into your establishment who is not wearing a mask. Businesses are highly recommended by the Erie County Department of Health to require masks in indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status, especially if we jump into this substantial category either later today or tomorrow,” he said.

The county executive also provided information that, he explained, has helped keep the county out of a "hot zone." According to the numbers he offered, approximately 71 percent of county residents ages 18 or older have had at least once vaccination shot, while 64.3 % of eligible residents ages 12 and older have received a second dose. He estimates about five percent of the population cannot be vaccinated due to immunocompromised health.

Poloncarz also told the webinar that he expects schools will open in September, but with masks required.

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.