Howard VanRensslaer

Cattaraugus County Legislator Howard VanRensslaer, R-Randolph.

OLEAN — With increasingly high COVID-19 numbers, Cattaraugus County could be headed back to indoor public masking requirements imposed in the early days of the pandemic.

The deaths of two women Monday, ages 86 and 63, brought to 170 the number of county residents who have died from the virus since April 2020.

It also made November — with a week to go — the deadliest month with 31 deaths, surpassing February, when there were a then-record 30 deaths.

With the 61 new cases Monday, there have now been 9,749 county residents diagnosed with the coronavirus — a record 1,456 so far in November. The previous record was December 2020 when there were 1,427 recorded cases. There were 1,283 cases in October.

Cattaraugus County Legislature Chairman Howard VanRensselaer said Monday he planned to speak with Public Health Director Dr. Kevin D. Watkins Tuesday in light of Erie County Executive Mark Polencarz’ directive that people must wear masks indoors in public due to the high rate of COVID-19 in that county.

Watkins has been advising people for months of the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that people wear masks in public — particularly indoors — in communities of high transmission.

County health department staff are now following 613 active COVID-19 cases, 44 who are hospitalized and 603 in contact quarantine.

“We continue to try to follow CDC guidelines that say communities of high transmission should wear masks in public — particularly when you aren’t aware of the vaccination status of others around you,” Watkins said.

Watkins said he planned to consult with VanRensselaer on the current surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the county. “My job is to recommend,” Watkins added. “He (VanRensselaer) would be the one” who would issue any emergency directives regarding mask-wearing in public.

Watkins went on to say “the public knows how to protect themselves and others” by wearing masks, staying socially distanced and washing their hands frequently.

“For the holiday, as we gather with family and friends for Thanksgiving, we should be aware that we are in the middle of a pandemic,” Watkins continued. “There is a high prevalence of COVID-19 that continues to wreak havoc on this community. It is really making headway here.”

Monday’s positivity was 10.9% and the seven-day rolling average was 13.6%. One day last week, the daily positivity was over 17%.

Western New York’s seven-day average is 9.7% and the state’s daily positivity Monday was 3.82%

Watkins said 60.9% of the 18 and older population and 51.4% of the entire population of the county have had at least one vaccine dose.

Watkins urged residents to be careful at holiday gatherings, especially of people they are not familiar with. “You want to wear a mask indoors to protect yourself and others.”

Watkins said Olean General Hospital ”has not seen a lot of relief” in this surge of COVID-19 cases and is at more than 90% capacity.

With just over half of the population with at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, Watkins urged more people to get vaccinated, particularly in light of the highly transmissible delta variant, wear masks indoors in public, socially distant and wash hands frequently.

VanRensselaer said the last time he brought up going back to mask requirements he didn’t get much support from other county lawmakers.

“I will probably bring it up with the legislature tomorrow (Tuesday),” VanRensselaer said. “I’m going to talk to Dr. Watkins. I believe everyone should be wearing masks (in public). Otherwise, they are putting themselves and others at risk. I think it’s important to be vaccinated and wear masks.”

He has scheduled himself for a booster shot as well.

A number of new COVID-19 cases involve people who are fully vaccinated. On Monday, 17 of the people testing positive were vaccinated and 44 were people who had not been vaccinated. These breakthrough cases are believed to be caused not only by the more transmissible delta variant, but also due to a waning of the effectiveness of the vaccine over time — especially in older people.

With the new cases, there are now 4,704 cases in the southeastern part of the county, 1,902 in the southwest, 1,794 in the northeast and 1,349 in the northwest. Women now represent 5,168 of the cases and men account for 4,581 cases.

To register for a free COVID-19 diagnostic test through the county health department, go online to:

Appointments for vaccinations can be made through the Cattaraugus County website by visiting: or call the COVID-19 Vaccine Hotline at (716) 701-3777 if you need assistance.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)

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