BUFFALO, N.Y. — We have all been hearing about the surge in COVID cases for several weeks already. But now we got a bit more information about just how fast Erie County leaders say it is spreading as they held their weekly briefing on Tuesday.
Unfortunately, there was another record set in Erie County with 1,368 cases reported in one day. That was just one of the facts put out in this apparently last county COVID briefing for 2021.
It is now believed that the omicron variant has been circulating here in Western New York for the past three weeks or so. The UB lab test confirmation we heard about last week was actually from a patient sample taken on December 7.
One element of very good news is that hospitalization rates in Erie County have really gone down. A "significant decline" was the phrase used.
Perhaps that is due to what medical experts say is with the less severe symptoms of omicron. But Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Governor Hochul still say Erie County's masking requirement for indoor public places is the real reason in their eyes. That is why they're staying with it and not looking at a vaccine for entry mandate right now.
The county is also planning to distribute some 400,000 KN95 masks which are tighter sealing masks to help keep infection away from the mouth.
The county also says that with the push to keep kids in school even with the higher numbers they will start implementing the Test to Stay program for qualified school districts. That's the plan where unvaccinated students exposed to COVID can test out rather than be forced into a strict quarantine at home.
Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein says, "We have sent out notifications earlier today to all the schools to know that we are ready to move forward with Test to Stay when they return from their Christmas break. Not every school district will be eligible or interested first of all - the schools to be eligible, since they're going to be having to do rapid tests in the school, they're going to have to have a limited service license, and a medical director and be able to report the test results to the New York state health department."
The other subject that came up was the question of the greater availability of antigen home testing kits. The state of New York has ordered up to 37 million such tests which they hope to soon put in the pipeline for distribution to schools and the general public.
Poloncarz was asked about a distribution formula for those tests. He said, "The library system has agreed to not only give out KN95 masks when they come to them in the next day or so - but they're going to also be giving rapid antigen tests. Don't go to the library now. They don't have them yet. We're also going to be distributing them in the senior centers, the community centers, all kinds of locations, homeless shelters to help those at risk because of homelessness. We'll be distributing them at fire companies, municipalities are going to get them and distribute them locally whether it be a town, village, or city. So yes we pretty much have a plan - now we're just waiting for the at-home tests to arrive."
Supposedly those additional at-home antigen tests, which may be hard to find in stores, will start arriving by the end of the week.
Governor Hochul says 37 million were ordered and they expect to start getting them in the pipeline this week. The counties are expected to get about a million or so. Erie County may get more and apparently has ordered some on their own. Again some will be going to BOCES and then on to school districts for Test-to-Stay.