Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz is warning schools that if they don't enforce mask rules in their buildings, they are potentially in danger of being shut down.
Under new state Education Department rules, the County Health Department can go into schools and see if students are wearing masks -- and apparently many aren't.
Speaking to his weekly briefing Wednesday, Poloncarz said the new state rules apply to public and private schools.
"We're getting reports. When we walk in here and we see kids not wearing masks, the teachers not wearing masks, we can close your school. The state gives us that power to do that. The State Education Department allows us to shut down these private schools. It's not just public schools," Poloncarz said. "I do not want to identify the schools, because there have been a few and they have responded appropriately."
While the county executive wouldn't name schools, the Nichols School in Buffalo currently has its Upper School on virtual learning, after the third positive COVID-19 case turned up in recent days.
County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said the 14212 zip code, covering Lovejoy and Sloan, last week had a positivity rate for the virus approaching 7% -- more than double the rate for the previous week, but part of a pattern of high percentages.
Burstein said, with such a high rate, Albany is watching carefully could start shutting down businesses in the zip code until the rate eases.
"The week before, only 3% of all the tests done were positive. So, again, you have to look at the whole picture, and the state's looking and we're looking, and that's why we're aggressive about investigating what are the sources of these infections and working with the state to help them understand what are the source is."
The state wants a rate under 1% in each region of New York.
Poloncarz also talked about the long and slow increase in COVID-19 cases in rural Western New York, which is starting to show up in hospital admissions. He said some patients have been sent well outside of Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties to Erie, PA for treatment. That state is already dealing with a rapid rise in virus cases.
The county executive said it is changing the COVID picture in the region.
"We've seen a switch that we have never seen before, which is more than 50% of all the hospitalized cases are in the other counties and they are primarily in the southern counties," Poloncarz said. "There's generally been a handful in Niagara County, but we know that there are some cases in the other counties."
The latest data also continues to show significant increases in COVID cases among young people in Erie County, with 43% of all cases involving people under age 30.