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Gov. Cuomo ‘Reviewing’ New CDC Guidance On Face Masks

More than 45,000 residents of Chautauqua County may soon have the option to stop wearing face masks in most places if they choose to do so. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday eased mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings.

According to New York’s online tracker, 45,864 local residents to date have completed their vaccination series — meaning they have either received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot or have received both of the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer shots. Meanwhile, 53,748 have received at least one dose in the county.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a brief statement Thursday evening, said, “In New York, we have always relied on the facts and the science to guide us throughout the worst of this pandemic and in our successful reopening. We have received the newly revised guidance from the CDC regarding mask wearing and social distancing for those with vaccinations and are reviewing them in consultation with Dr. Zucker and our partners and health experts in surrounding states.”

Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel said he hopes Cuomo backs the updated guidance for New York state residents as quickly as possible. He called the CDC’s decision “very bold and innovative” and a move in the right direction.

Wendel said the hard part moving forward will be enforcement — hoping that area residents will be honest about having received the vaccine if they are out in public without a mask. The county executive also pointed to ongoing efforts to get as many vaccinated as possible with plenty of clinics open to the public.

In a video posted Thursday, Christine Schuyler, county public health director, noted the importance of getting the COVID-19 vaccine. “By getting vaccinated, you not only protect yourself but you protect your family,” Schuyler said. “We understand you are tired. Tired of the masks, tired of the rules, tired of not being able to do the things you love. We’re tired too. We all want to get to the day that we can get rid of the masks and get back to the things that we’ve missed so much.”

The county Health Department reported 14 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. There are currently 85 active cases, two people with the virus in the hospital and 375 in quarantine.

To date there have been 9,110 confirmed cases, 8,873 total recoveries and 152 virus-related deaths.

In Cattaraugus County, the health department has recorded 5,559 cases, of which 131 were active in addition to 12 in the hospital and 705 in quarantine. To date there have been 5,324 recoveries and 102 COVID deaths.

The new CDC guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters but will help clear the way for reopening workplaces, schools, and other venues — even removing the need for masks or social distancing for those who are fully vaccinated.

“We have all longed for this moment — when we can get back to some sense of normalcy,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC.

The CDC will also no longer recommend that fully vaccinated people wear masks outdoors in crowds. The announcement comes as the CDC and the Biden administration have faced pressure to ease restrictions on fully vaccinated people — people who are two weeks past their last required COVID-19 vaccine dose — in part to highlight the benefits of getting the shot.

The new guidance is likely to open the door to confusion, since there is no surefire way for businesses or others to distinguish between those who are fully vaccinated and those who are not. Walensky and Biden said people who are not fully vaccinated should continue to wear masks indoors.

“We’ve gotten this far — please protect yourself until you get to the finish line,” Biden said, noting that most Americans under 65 are not yet fully vaccinated. He said the government was not going to enforce the mask wearing guidance on those not yet fully vaccinated.

“We’re not going to go out and arrest people,” added Biden, who said he believes the American people want to take care of their neighbors. “If you haven’t been vaccinated, wear your mask for your own protection and the protection of the people who also have not been vaccinated yet.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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