Erie County health officials are seeing a surge in COVID infections among students.
In an afternoon briefing Tuesday, County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said there were 421 reported cases last week, when almost all schools were on break, and 87 cases already Tuesday before the briefing began.
"We were expecting for last week a very small number of school-related case reports because the schools weren’t obligated to report," Burstein said. "However, despite that, we still saw a significant number of school reports, actually the second highest number when the first highest was the week before."
Earlier in the pandemic, common belief was that kids couldn’t get COVID. The health commissioner said it is now clear that isn’t true and they can get very sick.
"They can get infected from being in the classroom. They can get infected from a family member or a friend doing something else fun. So there are multiple mechanisms for people to get infected," she said. "And if they are students in a classroom, if they are infected with COVID-19 and they don’t have symptoms, they are in that classroom and potentially transmitting infections to other students."
At the other end of the age spectrum, Burstein said more than 70% of seniors have been vaccinated.
"So that is something to be proud of," she said.
However, hospitalizations are on their way back up. As of April 12, the Health department reported 326 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in Western New York, 71 in the ICU. Erie County hospitals had 289 patients (up 13), 64 in the ICU, 42 on an airway assist, 1 died and 55% of the patients were age 64 and under.
Erie County is also following national and state guidance to suspend use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccination. Burstein said there currently are no county clinics using the one-shot vaccine.
County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Erie County wants to re-open successfully and safely, so Buffalo Bills and Sabres fans will have to prove they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 if they want to attend games in the fall.
Poloncarz said ticket-holders entering Highmark Stadium or KeyBank Center will be asked to show digital proof they are fully vaccinated using New York state's Excelsior Pass cellphone app and there will be no religious or other exemptions.
The county also has a new online system for scheduling vaccine appointments for its clinics. Residents age 16 and older can register using the system, then select a location and time for their appointments.
Appointments can also be made by phone on the Erie County COVID-19 Information Line: 858-2929.
KeyBank Center is among the vaccine sites available, and all county-run sites are expected to be available for scheduling by next week.
Appointments are required for three upcoming county pop-up clinics in Buffalo for the Moderna vaccine for people ages 18 and up. They will be held Saturday 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at Southside Elementary School, 430 Southside Pkwy; April 22 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Durham Memorial Outreach Center, 200 East Eagle St.; and April 24 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. at Rich Products, One Robert Rich Way.
WBFO's Marian Hetherly contributed to this story.