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Newsmaker of the month: Flaring COVID numbers putting area on notice

The COVID vaccine. AP photo

Something seems awfully familiar about the most recent COVID-19 outbreaks across the nation and in Chautauqua County. As the region transitions from what was an inconsistent summer to autumn, there are reasons to be concerned about the Delta variant of the virus.

With a little more than 50% of residents here fully vaccinated and high positivity rates noted within the last week, masks are likely to become common part of our everyday apparel when going out. County Executive PJ Wendel has said he will not make it a mandate, but that is not the case with the educational sector.

Both Jamestown Community College and the State University of New York at Fredonia are requiring facial coverings when inside. “Face coverings will be required for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, in all indoor spaces on campus,” said university President Stephen Kolison. “The only exceptions will be in personal living spaces, individual workspaces, and during indoor eating and drinking. This requirement pertains to students, faculty, staff, and all visitors to campus. We will re-evaluate this requirement by September 16, 2021.”

On Tuesday, both institutions went a step further by mandating the vaccine. How this plays out with student enrollment remains to be seen.

Public schools, which open as early as next week in some parts of the region, are one reason for worry. While getting the children back into buildings is a better learning environment, there will be a factor of uncomfortability for some teachers, parents and students.

In the meantime, even the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce has noted residents need to be taking precautions in recent weeks. “While this step backward is frustrating, it is important to note that businesses have a lot of leeway to set their own ground rules around this – both for employees and for customers. Just as any business can post rules for ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service’ they can also add ‘masks required’ to that list,” said Dan Heitzenrater, chief executive officer for the agency.

Obviously, there are no easy answers moving forward — even when it comes to the future of high school or professional sports. Normalcy has not yet returned. This virus is abundantly stubborn.

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