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Erie County, Pegula Sports & Entertainment announce vaccination requirements for Bills, Sabres venues

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz speaks outside Highmark Stadium Tuesday, as other officials watch
Mike Desmond
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz speaks outside Highmark Stadium Tuesday, where county and Pegula Sports & Entertainment officials announced COVID vaccination requirements at the stadium and KeyBank Center.

Beginning later this fall, COVID vaccinations will be required of fans ages 12 and older attending Buffalo Bills games at Highmark Stadium and Buffalo Sabres games and other events at KeyBank Center, Erie County and Pegula Sports & Entertainment officials announced Tuesday.

When the Bills host their next game, Sept. 26, fans will be required to have at least one dose. Fans younger than 12 years old will be allowed to attend, but must wear masks and be accompanied by someone who is vaccinated. The same policy will be in effect at KeyBank Center beginning Sept. 25, when the downtown Buffalo venue hosts an Eric Church concert.

Fans ages 12 and older will not be required to wear masks, but doing so will remain highly recommended by county and PSE officials.

Beginning Oct. 31, fans eligible to receive the vaccine must be fully vaccinated to attend Bills games, as well as Buffalo Sabres games, concerts and other events at KeyBank Center.

"We are looking to provide the safest environment for our fans that we possibly can. We're thankful for this collaboration. We feel like this is the right move going forward," said PSE Executive Vice President Ron Raccuia.

Fans will also be required to present proof of their vaccination.

"Photocopies will not be accepted," Poloncarz said. "It must be the actual card or the New York State Excelsior Pass or, through CLEAR, a digital vaccine card or a governmental digital vaccine card of proof from outside of New York State."

The protocols, as of last weekend, included mandatory use of masks within any interior portions of Highmark Stadium, including restrooms, concessions and other facilities. Poloncarz said county health officials monitored patrons attending several events at the stadium since August, including the Billy Joel concert, Buffalo Bills preseason game and Sunday's regular season opener.

"Our Department of Health sanitarians were monitoring individuals in the club seat areas and the indoor sections of the clubs, suites, bathrooms and other areas and determined that approximately 47% of the individuals that they monitored were wearing masks," Poloncarz said. "We tried it. It didn't work. And we also have increasing numbers of COVID in our community."

County officials announced last Friday that the number of new positive COVID cases was the highest since last April. Poloncarz added that while they do not have evidence of a super spread, county contact tracers have found numerous positive cases stemming from people who attended events at Highmark Stadium in August.

Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein noted, though, that the numbers before her staff are limited.

"We only have data in from the Erie County Health Department on Erie County residents. And I'm sure that there were many residents from other counties, maybe even other states, that attended these two events. So we have incomplete information," Burstein said. "But as the county executive said, we do have evidence there were people that were contagious, at least from Erie County, that did attend both events."

The announcement touched off debate in social media platforms, but one person decided to air his grievances from a distance during the news conference.

"Tyrant!" the unidentified person shouted as he headed into the Buffalo Bills Store, not far from where the news conference was staged.

The Buffalo Bills and Las Vegas Raiders are now the only NFL teams to require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 for all fans over 12.

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.
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.