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New COVID cases up, but hospitalizations down in Erie County

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, an interpreter and a slide summarizing Erie County's COVID data.
Erie County
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz presented his latest COVID briefing Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021.

Some unfavorable trends, but also some encouraging numbers make up Erie County’s latest COVID report, which was presented Tuesday.

County Executive Mark Poloncarz opened by declaring that the county recorded its highest number of new cases within a 24-hour period.

“Yesterday was another new record daily high of total cases in a 24-hour period of 1,368 new COVID-19 cases, with the positivity rate for yesterday being slightly over 17 percent, at 17.1%,” he said. “The total new cases per 100,000 over the past seven days is now 634, the highest we've ever seen.”

Hospitalizations, meanwhile, have decreased. Capacities have improved, with about one in every five beds now open throughout hospitals within the county. And roughly one of every four ICU beds were also open. While not all hospital beds are filled with COVID patients, upticks in cases add strain and stress to already stretched hospital staffs, officials explain.

Poloncarz credits the downward trend on mask mandates and public cooperation. However, acknowledging the presence of the Omicron variant in Erie County, he announced the county will soon distribute 400,000 KN95 masks through Department of Health outreaches, test sites and vaccine clinics, senior services, and Buffalo and Erie County Public Library branches.

Officials explain the Omicron variant is two to three times more transmissible than Delta and other earlier COVID variants.

“With the Omicron, just a few viral particles can get in there and infect you. So we have to wear a really super well-fitting mask that doesn't have any of these potential defects on the side of our mouth or anywhere where a virus can intrude around our mask,” said County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein. “And there are some situations where we are really need a well-fitting mask that is comfortable that we can wear for a long time because either we can put ourselves at risk, or we can put somebody that we care for it risks. Like, if you're going out traveling, say on some type of public transportation like on a plane, in the airport, on a bus on a train, even rideshare, it's really important to wear a mask, because you don't know what the other people in that vehicle with you are harboring.”

Burstein recommends anyone who cares for someone who is sick with COVID, or any position during which one interacts with numerous people with unknown conditions or vaccination statuses to consider KN95 masks.

Meanwhile, Poloncarz says they have not yet received the home testing kits promised by New York State.

“Most counties in New York State have not, because they're going to the school districts first, so the school districts are prepared to handle it after the Christmas break,” he said. “We are expecting to receive our at-home allotment from those that we ordered individually, Erie County, as well as the ones we're getting from the state by the end of this week. And then we will be distributing through various sources early next week.”

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.