Twin Tiers residents planning to make a Black Friday run to shopping areas in Erie County should be aware that the county has returned to a mask mandate because of a rise in COVID-19 cases.

Seneca Gaming Corporation also announced Monday that masks will be required, regardless of vaccination status, at Seneca casinos and entertainment venues in Salamanca, Buffalo and Niagara Falls.

WIVB reported Erie County will require masks to be worn in all indoor, public locations starting 6 a.m. Tuesday as part of a plan announced by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. Masks must be worn by patrons age 2 and older in restaurants, bars, stores, theaters, barber shops, beauty parlors, gyms, fitness centers, hotels, banks, entertainment venues and all other places open to the public.

“None of us wanted to do phase one ... but we feel we must,” Poloncarz said Monday.

The county executive said if hospitalizations and cases do not decrease, a second phase of the plan would require people to be fully vaccinated for indoor dining or to enter bars and entertainment venues. A third phase would mean capacity restrictions similar to those implemented by the state in 2020.

A fourth phase would mean shutdowns like at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of that year.

Poloncarz said the situation would be re-evaluated in three weeks.

COVID-19 cases in Erie County have doubled over the past four weeks and gone up 22% last week alone. WIVB reported 91% of hospital beds in the county are full and the ICU is at 87% capacity. Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said wait times at hospital emergency rooms can be eight to 12 hours at times.

“The delta variant is spreading like wildfire in our community,” Burstein said.

Erie County’s seven-day average for positivity in testing for the virus was 9.3% (Cattaraugus County, N.Y.’s was 12% as of Sunday, according to the county’s health department).

There were 520 new cases of COVID-19 recorded by Erie County health officials on Sunday, according to data from Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office. The Western New York region’s collective positivity rate over seven days was listed at 9.79% as of Sunday.

Hochul, a Buffalo resident herself, commended Poloncarz for taking what she called strong actions as COVID-19 cases continue to surge in Western New York.

“This is an example of the leadership we need to see at the local level to combat this deadly virus,” Hochul said.

The governor said she has spoken with county executives from every region of the state “to hear firsthand their plans to combat the delta variant and pledge state resources and support to make vaccines and boosters even more widely available as we approach the holiday season.”

Hochul urged New Yorkers to get vaccinated, get boosters if already vaccinated and wear masks when in public places indoors.

“Don’t put it off any longer,” she said.

Seneca Gaming Corporation president and CEO Kevin Nephew, addressing the mask requirement at the casinos, said, “Our highest priority remains the health, safety and enjoyment of our guests and our team members. While we have maintained a strict adherence to COVID-related protocols at our three properties, the recent trends throughout Western New York are concerning. Requiring the use of face masks is the right step to ensure that our properties remain safe, enjoyable environments for all.”

The mask requirement will remain in effect until further notice.

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