BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Erie County has moved back into the “high” COVID-19 community level based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention benchmarks.

The CDC designates community levels based on the number of new daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over seven days, new COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 population (seven-day total), and percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients (seven-day average).

On April 21, ECDOH confirmed 658 new COVID-19 cases and 3,427 total cases over the past seven days. In addition, over the past seven days, there were 359 new cases per 100,000 Erie County residents. The positivity rate sat at 18.2% and the seven-day positivity rate was 17%.

Based on data from April 20, there were 79 people with COVID-19 in Erie County hospitals, and 31 of those patients were admitted due to COVID-19.

“Fortunately, we do not have the corresponding hospitalizations, at least not yet,” Dr. John Crane, infectious disease professor at Jacobs School of Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, said.

Doctors point to the new BA.2 variant of omicron as the reason for the spike in cases.

“You’re talking about a variant of COVID that is extremely contagious, so the illness has changed a bit and the symptoms have changed as well,” Dr. Richard Charles, Chief Medical Officer for General Physician, P.C., added.

Some Western New York residents say they want to go back to normal and do not want another mandate.

“You know I’m so over it. I would much rather see people have the freedom of their choice and if they feel as though they are at risk, so be it and wear a mask,” Heather Brill said.

Others told News 4 they were surprised by the announcement from the county because cases have been relatively low recently.

“A little surprised, but not totally surprised. Obviously the mask mandate went away, but I’m still very cautious,” Nora Protzman continued.

Despite the announcement, one resident said she is still skeptical of the county’s numbers.

“I was surprised by it. I’m one of those doubters. I don’t think it’s as high as they say it is,” Patti Kuberski added.

Doctors say it is not a matter of free choice. They say it may be a good idea to keep masking up in certain situations.

“I think we just have to be respectful of each other. Be careful. Practice wise moves like wearing masks in social situations where there’s people with high risk,” Dr. Charles continued.

In response, the Erie County Department of Health has released “recommendations,” not requirements, to combat COVID:

  • Wear a well-fitting mask indoors in public, regardless of vaccination status (including in K-12 schools and other indoor community settings)
  • Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines
  • Get tested if you have symptoms
  • If you are immunocompromised or high risk for severe disease
  • Wear a mask or respirator that provides you with greater protection
  • Consider avoiding non-essential indoor activities in public where you could be exposed
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about whether you need to take other precautions (e.g., testing)
  • Have a plan for rapid testing if needed (e.g., having home tests or access to testing)
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about whether you are a candidate for treatments like oral antivirals, PrEP, and monoclonal antibodies
  • If you have household or social contact with someone at high risk for severe disease
  • Consider self-testing to detect infection before contact
  • Consider wearing a mask when indoors with them
  • Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and boosters
  • Maintain improved ventilation throughout indoor spaces when possible
  • Follow CDC recommendations for isolation and quarantine, including getting tested if you are exposed to COVID-19 or have symptoms of COVID-19.

“There has been no direction from state or local health officials that masks are required in schools,” said Michael Cornell, president, Erie-Niagara School Superintendents Association.

“These recommendations are basic protective measures that we are all familiar with at this point in the pandemic,” said Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein. “Our department has walk-in rapid and PCR COVID-19 diagnostic testing available six days a week and regular COVID-19 vaccination clinics. Our COVID-19 ‘Test to Treat’ program, introduced last week, can connect eligible, symptomatic people who have a positive COVID-19 test result from our testing sites with a prescription antiviral medication that reduces the risk of serious illness.”

“There is currently a good community pharmacy supply of COVID-19 antiviral medication in Erie County, Burstein added. “Individuals 12 years of age or older weighing at least 88 lbs. with a positive COVID-19 test and who are at high risk for progression to severe disease should talk to their primary care provider or an urgent care center about antiviral medication.”

Check the CDC COVID-19 community level where you live below:

Patrick Ryan is a digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2020. See more of his work here.

Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.