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No New County Mask Mandates Expected — For Now

County Executive PJ Wendel is pictured during a recent debate at The Post-Journal’s office. P-J photo by Eric Tichy

Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel continues to be concerned about rising COVID numbers, however he isn’t ready yet to make any new mandates regarding mask wearing.

“I don’t see us doing that (requiring masks), but that’s not to say we’re not considering it,” he said Tuesday during a telephone interview.

On Monday night, the Fredonia Village Board announced it was requiring masks for visitors to village hall. Chautauqua County doesn’t have those regulations in county buildings, excluding for attending court, which masks are required by the state.

Wendel noted that he has a team that he regularly meets with to help make recommendations. Among those on the team are Christine Schuyler and Dr. Robert Berke, both of whom are a part of the county Board of Health. Last week that board recommended more mask wearing, although it doesn’t have the authority to make mask mandates.

Wendel also stays in contact with state officials. Over the weekend there was a discussion among county leaders across the state regarding the rise in COVID cases in New York.

“The crisis we’re seeing isn’t in New York state only,” he noted.

One of the things Wendel’s appreciated about Gov. Kathy Hochul compared to former Gov. Andrew Cuomo is her willingness to do things differently in different communities.

“She’s not a ‘one size fits all,'” he said.

For example, Chautauqua County has a 9.1% positive testing rate, while New York City’s rate is around 1.5%.

“Still, that’s a whole lot of people infected every day,” he said, referring to the total number of people in New York City.

Wendel said he would like the governor to consider a state-run testing facility and/or a state-run vaccination clinic in Chautauqua County. Ultimately, Wendel believes the state needs to adjust its plan to fight COVID.

“If we’ve followed the flow chart, the higher rate should be reducing,” he said. “We should change something. We should be able to come up with something for a new strategy moving forward.”

Locally, Wendel said hospital rates are increasing but not at a point where he believes changes need to be made.

“They’ve gone up but again, nothing that we’re hearing is overwhelming,” he said.

Along with the rising COVID cases, Wendel is also concerned about students who have to miss school due to quarantine issues. Unvaccinated students who are identified as a close contact must quarantine for 10 days. He said he’s heard from parents that have had their children three times this school year have to quarantine due to being listed as close contact.

“That’s 30 days of school they’ve missed,” he said.

Neighboring Erie County in New York has implemented a new mask mandate. County Executive Mark Poloncarz said that masks must be worn in all public settings. This is considered Phase one. If numbers continue to rise, Poloncarz said they will look at Phase two. That phase would require vaccines to enter indoor dining, bars and entertainment venues.

If COVID-19 numbers still rise, Erie County would look at Phase three, which would reinstate capacity restrictions in all public locations similar to what was implemented by New York state in 2020. If all three phases fail, Phase four would entail shutdowns.

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