Face masks are expected to be more common in Erie County schools, businesses and government buildings starting Friday.
A spike in new COVID-19 cases and a surge in hospitalizations due to the virus have pushed the county to a high COVID-19 community level, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. The CDC updates the map every Thursday evening.
New:North East School Board hit by anti-mask lawsuit; follows case against Millcreek Board
People living in high-level counties are recommended by the CDC to wear face masks indoors, although they are not required to do so by the CDC or local government in Erie County.
The Erie School District buildings are an exception. Erie Schools Superintendent Brian Polito confirmed Friday afternoon that a mask will be required in all schools starting Monday. Polito had said the district will make face masks mandatory for everyone if the county hits high levels.
“We are aware that this is potentially unwelcome news for some,” Polito said on the district’s website. “However, as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, our most important responsibility is to ensure the health and safety of our staff and students. Masking is just one of many protocols that help us do just that.”
Other school districts told the Erie Times-News earlier this month that they will base their masking decisions on the number of COVID-19 cases in their district or at individual schools.
The Fairview School District will continue to allow parents to choose whether their child wears a face mask at school.
More:Some Erie County schools will mask, some won’t as COVID-19 community level rises
“The most important thing I can take away from getting high is that now is a good time to get a starting dose or a booster if you haven’t already decided on the vaccine,” said Charlotte Berringer, RN, Director of Community Health Services for the Erie County Department of Health.
For a calendar of COVID-19 vaccination locations in Erie County, visit https://eriecountypa.gov/covid-19/covid-19-vaccine.
Erie County hit a high by reporting 281.39 new COVID-19 cases and 15.4 hospitalizations for COVID-19 per 100,000 residents from May 12-18. The benchmark for high level is a rate of at least 10 admissions when a county has a rate greater than 200 cases
The only metric where Erie County didn’t score well was the percentage of inpatient hospital beds used by COVID-19 patients. Their share is 5% and thus well below the 10% threshold.
A county only needs to meet one of the two measures other than case counts to achieve a high level.
More:COVID-19 cases are rising in Erie County to levels not seen since the Omicron surge
Crawford County now has a medium COVID-19 community level. It reported 237.51 new cases per 100,000 people, but a rate of just 9.5 hospital admissions and just 2.5% of inpatient beds were used by COVID-19 patients.
The good news is that few Erie County residents have become seriously ill with COVID-19. Thirty-eight residents were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Thursday, including 17 in intensive care units and two who needed ventilators, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
“None of our COVID-positive patients are currently on ventilators,” said Saint Vincent Hospital spokeswoman Monica Lewis. “Our patients with COVID, who currently have the highest degree of illness in hospital, are sicker because of their other medical conditions.”
Berringer warned that an increase in COVID hospitalizations typically lags a few weeks behind increases in cases. No COVID-19 deaths have been reported in the county since the week of April 18-24.
“It’s a little early to be upset about a lack of hospitalizations,” Berringer said. “They will certainly increase, but hopefully not anywhere near the numbers we saw when the Omicron surge began.”
Here’s a look at the county’s COVID-19 measurements between May 4-10 and May 11-17, according to the state health department:
- The number of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases rose from 372 to 540.
- The rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people rose to 200.2 from 137.2.
- The COVID-19 test positivity rate increased from 16.3% to 21.4%.
- The average daily number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 increased from 21.4 to 29.
- The average daily number of COVID-19 patients requiring a ventilator rose from 0.9 to 1.0.
- The percentage of emergency room visits due to COVID-19 symptoms decreased from 1.7% to 1.2%.