'Community burden' approach helps lead to NYS changing COVID guidelines, lifting of mask mandate
Looking at the “community burden” rather than just the number of cases is a key part of the reason for New York State’s shift in COVID-19 masking requirements, according to the public health director for Genesee and Orleans counties.
Paul Pettit, appearing at the Genesee County Legislature’s Human Services Committee meeting this afternoon at the Old County Courthouse, updated legislators on some of the factors leading to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s decision to lift the statewide mask requirement in schools starting Wednesday.
“What they did is they started to look at community burden, which looks at not just the number of cases, but now also includes the severity – how it’s impacting our healthcare system and what kind of bed capacity that we have available in the region,” Pettit said. “Those things are now overlaid with the cases, which actually doubled per 100,000; they went from 100,000 to 200,000 for obtaining the high level status.”
He said that the new scenario provides “a better indication of what’s going on with COVID in the community; not just pure numbers.”
Pettit mentioned that the local health department has advocated for months that the state change the metrics by which regions are categorized – and now that has been done as well, moving from low, medium, substantial and high to low, medium and high.
“When they changed this on Friday, they looked at the map and immediately made probably two-thirds of the map go from substantial or high to medium because once you take community burden in place, it puts it at a whole different level,” he said.
Currently, Genesee County is in the medium category, he said, adding that the county’s monitoring of wastewater backs up the extent to which COVID-19 cases are declining.
As far as schools are concerned, Pettit said he has yet to receive official guidance from the state but expects all Genesee County schools to take the optional approach when it comes to wearing masks.
“We’ve been lobbying all year, before school even started, with moving forward with more of a local decision-making choice-based method with this,” he said. “Our schools are positioned – I haven’t talked to them all yet – but the indication is they’re all going to move forward with optional masking starting Wednesday.”
Pettit acknowledged that some students and staff will continue to wear masks.
“That’s their right if they want to do that and it’s their ability to do that,” he said. “We would definitely encourage it if they feel comfortable and they're concerned, that they continue to do that."
He said the health department has masks for all, including smaller ones for the elementary pupils, but, in general, he emphasized that he is happy to see “the shift in all of our schools starting on Wednesday.”
On related topics, Pettit reported:
- The vaccination rate in Genesee County for those age 5 and older is 66.2 percent for one does and 61.5 percent for the completed series (not including a booster shot). Vaccines continue to be available through the health department and at local pharmacies.
- There isn’t a strong demand for testing and, in fact, the health department has 15,000 test kits on hand – many coming in now from orders submitted weeks ago.
- Discussion at the federal level has included development of a vaccine that combines COVID with other viral infections, such as the seasonal flu. Currently, a fourth shot is not being considered.
- People, including students, who test positive for COVID should stay home for up to five days and wear masks for up to five days after that. Students who ride the bus are exempt from the federal transportation mandate, which means that masks aren’t required unless a student is coming off a positive case.