BUFFALO, NY (WIVB) Thousands of children across Western New York head back to class next week with the Covid positivity rates more than twice as high as the same week last year.

“The difference between now and last year is the Delta variant,” said Dr. Tim Murphy, an infectious disease scientist at the University at Buffalo. He notes that the Delta variant is twice as contagious as the original Covid strain. That helps explain why, even with more than half of the population vaccinated, our local positivity rate is higher than it’s been all summer, and worse than all of last summer.

As of Saturday, the positivity rate for Erie County stands at 3.6% on a seven day rolling average. Chautauqua County stands at 9.2%, the highest rate of any county in New York State.

There are currently 109 Covid patients in Erie County hospitals. 32 of them are in the intensive care units. Those numbers are the highest the highest they’ve been since May, but Dr. Murphy calls them manageable. “The vaccines are doing the most important things they can do, which is to prevent serious illness and prevent death.”

Parents should also be aware of a respiratory infection known as respiratory syncytial virus. It has the same symptoms as a cold or flu. It usually affects kids the most every winter, and although it was almost non existent last winter because of distancing and masks, it’s made a comeback in kids this summer.

“Kids are gonna have to stay home when they have respiratory symptoms,” said Dr. Murphy. “This is the time of year when lots of kids have sniffles and upper respiratory infections. When that’s the case, it’s our responsibility to keep our children home and then have them tested for Covid.”