Face mask mandates remain in place in some locations in Erie County, although new measurements from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention have placed the county at moderate risk for COVID-19.
People are still required to wear masks inside any building on the Penn State Behrend campus, as well as at Erie City Hall and at local hospitals, nursing homes, and some day care centers.
Members of the Joint COVID Task Force for Edinboro, California University of Pennsylvania and Clarion University of Pennsylvania decided Wednesday morning to end the mask mandate on their affiliated campuses. They had announced earlier this week that the mandate would extend for at least several weeks.
“We will continue to monitor the positive COVID-19 cases within the campus community,” said Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson, president of the three schools. “If an increase occurs in cases on campus, or if the CDC moves one of the counties to (a high risk for COVID-19), a mask requirement may be reintroduced.”
The new CDC measurements take into account a county’s frequency of new cases, new COVID-19 hospital admissions and the percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. It categorizes counties according to low, medium and high risk.
Mask mandates are recommended for high-risk counties. Erie County is currently at medium risk, while Crawford County is at high risk.
Several county school districts, including Erie and Millcreek Township, completed their mask mandates Monday after learning the new measurements.
But Eries Mayor Joe Schember decided to continue the mask mandate at City Hall for both visitors and staff.
“Of course we’re still in the middle of winter and spend a lot of time indoors,” said Renee Lamis, Schember’s chief of staff. “So we do not want to do anything that will unnecessarily result in increased transmission.”
Lamis mentioned the county’s relatively low vaccination rate of 57.2% of all residents, and the fact that home tests are more accessible. The positive results of home tests are often not added to county cases unless the patient seeks medical attention.
Schember has not set a date for when masks will be optional at City Hall.
“We will monitor our Biobot data over the next few weeks to see if there is an increase in the amount of (COVID-19) viruses excreted,” Lamis said, referring to wastewater samples taken from Erie Wastewater Treatment Plant.
“We will compare this data with the number of cases, vaccination rates, hospitalizations and deaths – and will regularly review our policy to determine the best time to remove the mask mandate,” Lamis added.
The amount of COVID-19 virus in the Biobot samples has increased in recent weeks from the equivalent of 600 cases per week to around 2,200 cases.
However, test results have not always been consistent with the county’s actual COVID-19 cases. The county reported 262 new cases from 21-27. February, the lowest weekly number since August.
UPMC Hamot reports a day without COVID-19 admissions
COVID-19 hospital admissions in the county also continue to decline. UPMC Hamot reported that it did not admit any COVID-19 patients on Monday, its first 24-hour non-hospitalization period since September 3rd.
Both Hamot and Saint Vincent have only one open COVID unit after each having four of them open in mid-January. During that time, the county’s 14-day moving average of daily admissions has dropped from 132.3 to 50.7.
“And many of the COVID patients we see in the hospital come in for other reasons, such as a hip fracture, and subsequently test positive for COVID,” said Kiet Ma, DO, a Saint Vincent pulmonologist. “Fewer of them need critical care, like supplemental oxygen.”
Sixteen county residents with COVID-19 were in intensive care units Tuesday night, including five who needed ventilators, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
The county reported six more deaths this week due to COVID-19 complications, increasing the total to 772 since the pandemic started. The most recent deaths occurred between January 25 and February 20.
Influenza cases continue to rise in Erie County
While COVID-19 cases are declining, the county’s weekly number of flu cases has risen again.
A total of 85 cases of flu were reported last week, compared to 76 the week before and 511 since the flu season started in the fall.
Three people were hospitalized with flu complications, increasing the total to 13 hospitalizations since the flu season began. No influenza deaths have been reported in the county.
“Masking is gone so we’re going to see more flu,” said Charlotte Berringer, RN, director of community health services for the Erie County Department of Health. “People can still get the flu vaccination. They are available at doctors’ offices and many pharmacies.”