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To mask or not to mask, that is the question

The long fight against COVID is more and more becoming a debate about when to wear or not wear a mask.

New York State has now joined the Centers for Disease Control recommendations to ease mask requirements, indoors and outdoors. But that's where it starts getting complicated. Erie County officials spent their Tuesday briefing trying to clarify the current requirements.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said anyone visiting a county building has to wear a mask. Some county workers have to wear masks all the time if they interact with the public and others have to wear masks some of the time.

Poloncarz said there are public and private rules.

"Private venues may establish higher regimens, a higher standard of care, so to speak. So they can require everyone, regardless of whether or not they have been vaccinated, to wear a mask," he said. "So shopping centers, movie theaters, bars, restaurants can follow the same standard as before and say, 'Okay, you can take your mask off when you get to the table.'"

What does that mean for customers?

"If they have a customer who is very angry and refuses to wear a mask, I would just remind the customers that the owner of the establishment, the private establishment, can set their limits. They can say a mask is required to enter in here. Like 'No shoes. No shirt. No service,'" he said. "Well, you know what? They can do 'No mask. No service.' And you don't have a Constitutional right to go into a private establishment and demand to be served without a mask on."

Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said county contact tracers are finding some "alarming trends" concerning COVID-positive people who don't want to be found.

She said parents are sending sick children to school when they should be in quarantine. Contact tracers are also finding outbreaks in businesses that aren't following the rules for sick employees by telling them to stay home.

Burstein said some are also trying to game the system with "test shopping."

"Somebody is a close contact. They do their due diligence and they go and get a rapid test. It's positive. So it's, 'I feel fine. I don't believe that result. I don't like that number.' And so they go somewhere else and try to get another test," she said. "However, we get the results of every single test. So if we find that you are a close contact and you have one positive test, that's one positive test and that's all it takes for us to issue an isolation order."

Officials said the county is still having problems getting people to be vaccinated because some just don't believe there is a safety need.