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New cases of the COVID-19 in Niagara County have been trending steadily upward weekly, according to Health Commissioner Dan Stapleton. Hospitalizations have remained low at six cases this week.

The infection rate for this week in Niagara County has risen to 4.5% from the 3.7% as of Sept. 1. There are 295 new cases that have been discovered in the last seven days, a rise from the 271 discovered between Aug. 26 to Sept. 1.

Stapleton said that the infection rate, also known as the positivity rate, is a function of new cases over number of tests. He noted that not as many tests are being done today as during “the main surge” and therefore each new case is statistically more significant.

“The new cases are here, there’s hospitalizations,” Stapleton said, noting these are hard facts. “But the infection rate could be affected a lot by having a low number of tests done. The state had a testing site, we were doing as many as 4,000 a-day during the main surge. That’s not available anymore so your number of tests have gone down, as well.”

Addressing those hard facts, Stapleton said that at the moment, the population is “wide open.”

“We’re wide open. Anybody who watches their TV sees people go to concerts, people are going to football games,” he said. “I think that our communities are open. School has started. We’ve gone back to a lot of our normal behaviors and so I think it becomes the case: what’s an acceptable level, based on the ability to open up?”

Stapleton noted that having kids at school will affect the numbers.

“I know that having kids at school full-time is critical, and so we’re watching the numbers very closely, because we need to see if full in-person school leads to an increase,” he said. “Do I think those cases will increase a little? Yes, I don’t think there’s any way they’re not going to be, but what’s an acceptable amount of risk?”

What can be done? Stapleton boiled it down to three steps.

“One, get vaccinated,” Stapleton said, referencing that the “vast majority” of new cases and hospitalizations are unvaccinated cases and unvaccinated hospitalizations, as well as unvaccinated deaths.

Vaccinations can be received at doctor’s offices, pharmacies and the county is conducting them at several locations including Lewiston’s Peach Festival from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, as well as at the Celtic Festival. Interested parties can register at niagaracounty.com, but walk-ins are welcome.

Third shots for individuals with moderate or severe compromised immune systems are also available. Booster shots have not yet been approved by the FDA, Stapleton said, and are not available.

“Number two, practice things we’ve been talking about right from the beginning,” Stapleton said regarding masks, social distancing and handwashing. “And three, thank the people who continue to keep us safe”.

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