BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Erie County has a new record number of daily cases of COVID-19.

On Monday, 1,368 new cases were reported in the county. 17.1 percent of the tests taken that day were positive. 56 of the 129 rapid tests taken at a Erie County Department of Health site were positive.

“The good news, and this is very good news, the hospitalizations continue to decline,” according to Mark Poloncarz, Erie County Executive, who said Tuesday that Erie County hospitals are now only 79% filled, a big change from most of them being filled just weeks ago.

It may be another hint that the Omicron variant of Covid may be more contagious but less severe than the previous Delta variant. “We went through a delta wave and right now we are not seeing a bad Omicron wave with regard to hospitalizations. We need to keep it that way. We believe the mask mandate has made a difference.”

It’s estimated that about 60% of the new cases in Erie County are the Omicron variant, according to Poloncarz. “Omicron didn’t just come here last week, it’s been here since at least December 10th, December 7th, 8th 9th probably.”

When students go back to school next Monday, their districts will have the option of beginning a ‘Test to Stay’ program, which allows students to test out of quarantine with a negative test even if they were within close contact of someone who tested positive.

But it may take at least a week after that before most schools can be up and running with the system, according to the Erie County Health commissioner. “So, not every school may be eligible or interested,” said Dr. Gale Burstein. “First of all, for the schools to be eligible, since they’re gonna be having to do lab tests in the school, they’re going to have a limited service license, a medical director and be able to report the test results both negative and positive to the New York State Health Department.”

Since the pandemic began, there have been 144,605 confirmed cases in the county.

COVID-19 News

Evan Anstey is an Associated Press Award and Emmy-nominated digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.

George Richert is an award-winning reporter who first joined the News 4 team in 1998, later returning in 2018. See more of his work here.