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Governor Cuomo walks back Erie County’s vaccination requirement for Buffalo Bills games

On Tuesday, Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz told the media that he wanted a packed Highmark Stadium for Buffalo Bills games in the fall, but that everyone that came to the stadium would need to show proof of vaccination with no exceptions. On Wednesday, New York State governor Andrew Cuomo walked back that assertion, contradicting his fellow Democrat and scolding him.

“I don’t think the county executive is legally correct,” said Cuomo, when asked about the vaccine mandate, “but besides that, we tend to work in a collaborative with local government, and we’re just not there yet to make those decisions.”

Poloncarz asserted on Tuesday he didn’t need the governor’s permission to enforce the mandate at the County-owned facility. Cuomo disagreed, but didn’t want to comment in-depth on something happening months from now.

“Things change so quickly,” Cuomo said. “Where are you going to be in four months? I’ll tell you in four months. If the immunization all goes right, if there’s no variants of interest, if, God forbid, there’s not another virus or pandemic. I just think it’s early to make a decision months ahead. Legally the state would have to sign off on it. Practically, we tend to do it as a collaborative.”

Cuomo and his advisor Beth Garvey are treating the comments from Poloncarz as “aspirational” instead of a mandate, but Poloncarz pushed back.

“The county executive I think said something like ‘he hoped everybody would be immunized and if everybody were immunized, then everybody could go to the game,’” said Cuomo Wednesday.

Poloncarz did say the county would follow state restrictions on capacity limits, but doubled down via a spokesperson Wednesday, saying it’s a county facility and he’s allowed to enforce stricter rules than the state.

The Bills, for the record, have stayed out of the fray. They lease the building from the county and are also looking for money from the state and county to upgrade their current building or move to a new facility.

“[I] talked to ticket office and they seem to believe that the Erie County executive doesn’t get to make this call and is not the policy of Bills, NFL, or State of NY,” said a season ticket holder to us in a tweet after speaking with the team. “If that changes where you are mandated to take a vaccine or you are out of state and can’t go, [I] can cancel.”

With three months until the opening of training camp, and a couple more weeks until the preseason, we will surely see clarification on this as the season approaches.