New York County Reinstates Mask Mandate, Could Require COVID Vaccine for Indoor Dining

Mask mandates will be reinstated Tuesday in western New York's most populous county after a spike of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Starting Tuesday, all individuals ages 2 and older must wear masks at all indoor public locations in Erie County. The mandate will require masks to be worn whether people are vaccinated or not in places such as bars and restaurants, grocery stores, hotels and banks, gyms and fitness centers and hair salons.

Erie County, home to the city of Buffalo, has reported 456 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past seven days, more than four times the federal government's threshold to define a high transmission rate, according to County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

Erie County hospitals reported 249 COVID-19 patients as of Sunday, up from the 168 cases reported on November 7, and only about 63 percent of residents in Erie County are fully vaccinated.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Mask Signs
Mask mandates will be reinstated Tuesday in western New York’s most populous county after a spike of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. A person wears a mask while walking in Grand Central Terminal on July 27 in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

"This is one of the largest seven-day periods we've ever seen," Poloncarz said in a virtual briefing Monday.

Poloncarz said that cases among K-12 students and staff are rising and that 30-39 year-olds represent the most cases. He said COVID-19 hospital admissions have increased by 50 percent in the past two weeks.

But rates are lower in southern and eastern parts of the county: including 38.4 percent in the 14034 ZIP code that includes Collins in southern Erie County.

The vast majority of the state's 62 counties are seeing sharp upticks in new COVID-19 positives, from those on Long Island to Niagara County in western New York.

And much of the state, from Saratoga to Erie County, is also seeing sharp increases in hospitalizations.

The county's reinstitution of its mask mandate follows Governor Kathy Hochul's warning last week that a continued uptick in COVID-19 rates could mean New Yorkers will again face more virus protocols in high-risk communities.

But the governor hasn't laid out any specific protocols that she could re-institute, including where or when they'd take effect.

Health care workers in New York had until Monday to get their first vaccine dose under a statewide mandate that has survived court challenges.

About 95 percent of health care workers had a completed vaccine series as of November 17, according to state data.