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Erie County lifts mask mandate for county buildings starting Monday

ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. (WIVB) — Erie County will lift the mask mandate for all county-owned buildings on Monday, according to County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

The county also announced the vaccine mandate at KeyBank Center will also be lifted.

The decision comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released relaxed guidance on public mask-wearing. New York State’s school mask mandate will remain in effect.

New CDC guidelines offer many Americans a break from masks

“The CDC’s Community Level indicators show that Erie County is on the right track in the fight against the virus, and our own information about COVID-19 in the community corroborates what they are seeing. Cases and hospitalizations are decreasing, which is very encouraging,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. “With this evidence in hand, the mask mandate in Erie County buildings will be lifted as of Monday, February 28. We are still closely monitoring the spread of the virus and will take other actions as necessary and when possible.”

This is a developing story, check back for updates.

Patrick Ryan is a digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2020. See more of his work here.

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McKinley HS to begin return to in-person learning Tuesday

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — McKinley High School students will begin heading back to the classroom one day later than expected.

Buffalo Public Schools released their “McKinley Climate and Culture Plan” outlining how the Elmwood Avenue high school will reopen after a brutal attack on a student and one security guard on Feb. 9.

The reset plan calls for seniors to return in person on Tuesday, March 1, followed by juniors Wednesday, sophomores Thursday and freshmen on Friday.

The district notes that this plan is fluid and could change based on evolving circumstances.

Buffalo Peacemakers will help students return to McKinley High School next week

On Saturday, a Buffalo Public Schools spokesperson confirmed to News 4 Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash appointed Dr. Casandra Wright as acting superintendent during his week-long absence.

The District will host a media walkthrough of McKinley and take questions about the plan Saturday at 3 p.m.

View the full plan:

Patrick Ryan is a digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2020. See more of his work here.

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Buffalo Police searching for missing 13-year-old

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Buffalo Police are searching for missing 13-year-old Makenzie Brown.

Brown was last seen Friday around 6:40 p.m. at a friend’s house in the 1900 block of Niagara Street. 

She was wearing an orange bubble jacket, light blue jeans and a white t-shirt. 

 The 13-year-old stands at 5’2″ with long braided hair.

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Makenzie Brown is asked to call 911.

Patrick Ryan is a digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2020. See more of his work here.

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NCCC to remove mask mandate for vaccinated students and staff

SANBORN, N.Y. (WIVB) — Starting Monday, those on Niagara County Community College’s campus who have been fully vaccinated by the standards of the CDC, the State, the Niagara County Department of Health and SUNY, will no longer have to abide by the college’s mask mandate.

Though not required, the school is still encouraging vaccinated students and staff to wear masks when in close proximity to others. Unvaccinated members of the campus community, including those with religious and medical exemptions, will still be required to wear masks per SUNY policy.

“The administration is confident that recent trends in data, in addition to the guidance and collaboration of other state and local stakeholders, and testing measures in place support the decision to update the mask mandate,” the school said.

The announcement also stated that unvaccinated students and staff will continue with weekly COVID pool testing, while those who are vaccinated on campus will have random pool testing. Additionally, voluntary testing is available weekly for those who wish to do so. All testing costs will be covered by the college.

Adam Duke is a digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of his work here.

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Aurora Theatre re-opening pushed to March 5

The re-opening of the historic Aurora Theatre is once again on hold.

West Herr Group to take over Aurora Theatre

The Aurora Theatre is located on Main Street in East Aurora. The theatre’s website now says they will be closed until March 5.

It was recently taken over by West Herr Automotive Group.

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Buff State hosts spotlight on Black composers

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — In honor of Black History Month, there was a spotlight on Black composers Friday night.

A program at Buffalo State’s Rockwell Hall featured works that are often unknown. The program was hosted by Buffalo Opera Unlimited and was designed for its mission of presenting musical genres other than opera. The event featured dancers, a chorus, an orchestra and baritone Jaman Dunn singing Margaret Bonds’ moving composition, entitled, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.”

This program will be presented again Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are available at this link.

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Local girls hockey teams lacing up against Lyme disease this weekend

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Local advocacy group Lyme Western New York is combining girls hockey and Lyme disease awareness in a brand new fundraising event.

The first ever “Ladies Lace Up Against Lyme Disease” kicked off Friday at Harborcenter.

Four girls teams from around the area are playing hockey to raise awareness for the disease and engage in a little friendly competition.

“Both of my daughters are heavily involved in female hockey and we’re like, ‘Well, we spend most of our time on the ice and we spend a lot of our time helping others with Lyme disease,'” said Lyme WNY chair Rebecca Roll. “‘So how can we combine the two things we’re really passionate about?'”

Rebecca and her husband Chuck started Lyme WNY a few years ago after the disease hit close to home.

“My husband was bit by a tick in 2013, never saw the tick, we never knew what was wrong with him and we went through months of uncertainty not knowing what was wrong,” she said.

“I was diagnosed with Lyme disease several years back and I was very sick for many years,” Chuck said. “And it took a long time to get the diagnosis and it was really hard to get treatment. So our goal of creating this group was mainly education, awareness, and prevention because early detection is key.”

Throughout this journey, they’ve found they’re not alone.

“One misconception is that it’s easily diagnosed and it’s easily treated,” Rebecca said. “If you happen to see the tick on you and you happen to get a bullseye rash, which is only a small percentage of the time, we always say consider yourself lucky. Chronic Lyme can go on for the rest of your life. It can completely debilitate you.”

People can learn more about Lyme at the auction tables at the event and try their luck at winning a prize.

Of course, there’s also hockey.

“This year is kinda smaller, it’s just a showcase,” Rebecca said. “We’re really hoping to turn it into a really large tournament, this is kind of like our baby steps to get into something bigger.”

Outside of the event, anyone can attend one of the Lyme WNY meetings.

“We’re here to talk, we have monthly group meetings in West Seneca and I think its surprising how many people show up every month, I mean we could have 50 people in one month,” Chuck said.

The Peace Bridge, City Hall and Niagara Falls will be lit green Friday and Saturday nights for Lyme disease awareness.

The games continue into Saturday and a couple teams from out of town will also be coming to the area to compete against the local teams from WNY.

Kayla Green is a reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of her work here.

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The Challenger, a voice for the Black community, nears 60th Anniversary

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — All month News 4 has been telling you stories to celebrate Black History Month. To continue the celebration, we’re highlighting the work of The Challenger, a locally-owned newspaper that highlights issues and events in the Black community.

The Challenger launched on April 11, 1963, and has evolved through the years from charging 10 cents to being free, from reporting on issues in the Civil Rights era to reporting on modern-day issues.

The Challenger is just two months away from turning 60 years old.

“Sixty years means that we are on the right path and that we’re necessary and we’re looking forward to 60 more,” said Al-Nisa Banks, the owner of the paper, who started here more than 40 years ago as a volunteer.

“When you really look back at the old issues the more things change, the more they stay the same,” Banks said.

West Herr’s $50,000 gets African American war monument over the top

Issues such as police brutality, racism and crime. The paper has grown over the years to also focus on entertainment, arts and health.

“My daughter Leah just started her own health column in the paper, which is really becoming quite popular,” Banks said.

Leah, as in Leah Hamilton, she’s in charge of digital, updating The Challenger’s website and app. Al-Nisa has another daughter Shola, who works on the paper as well.

“That’s the front page of the website, where we have advertisers and we run our recent cover, which I’m going to change right now, ” Leah said.

Stories that appear in the paper come from all over. Most of the photography is original. And, if you think this newsroom isn’t busy, think again.

“We print up to the minute actually, we have a cut-off, we have to have a deadline,” Banks said, “We deliver all over the community, we also go to Rochester and always had a Rochester edition, Niagara Falls and Lackawanna, but mostly in the City of Buffalo.”

Trinity Baptist Church preserves Buffalo’s Black history with parishioner-founded museum

Banks says The Challenger prints 16,000 copies per week.

So, when you pick up The Challenger next time, remember the family bond that’s behind these stories.

“Every day is Black History Day, we are history, we’re making history every day, so we’re proud to be able to do that,” Banks said.

The Challenger still has not decided how it will celebrate 60 years. Banks plans on keeping the newspaper within her family in the future.

Jeff Preval is an award-winning anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2021. See more of his work here.

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Mayor Brown selects Deputy BPD Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia to be commissioner

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown announced Friday the appointment of Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia to the role of police commissioner; the appointment now goes to the Common Council to decide on signing off.

Gramaglia joined Buffalo Police in 1996, serving as an officer, lieutenant, captain, chief of B District and deputy police commissioner in 2018.

“These appointees are all dedicated public servants who exemplify the hard work and determination that
defines our City. They are committed to delivering world-class services for our community that will translate into four more years of progress, public safety, diversity, inclusion and opportunity for all,” Mayor Brown said.

In addition, Cavette Chambers was appointed Acting Corporation Counsel. She will serve as the first Jamaican-American woman in that role. She was previously appointed senior deputy corporation counsel in 2017 and has been an assistant corporation counsel in Buffalo’s Law Department since 2006.

Mary Scarpine will now work under Chambers as senior deputy corporation counsel.

Patrick Ryan is a digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2020. See more of his work here.

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WNYers check in with family and friends in Ukraine as the crisis with Russian continues

BUFFALO N.Y. (WIVB) — Nicolette Thompson remembers her visit to Ukraine fondly.

“I had the opportunity to meet many of my cousins that are still in Liviv, a number of years ago when I was in my cousin’s wedding,” she said. “I was able to go with my grandfather. Absolutely a trip of a lifetime.”

Thompson’s family in Ukraine celebrating her cousin’s wedding in 2009

Thompson’s grandpa Jaroslaw Bilyj, arrived to the states from Ukraine in the late 1940s. She still has many family members in Ukraine and has been reaching out to them as much as she can.

“The entire community is devastated by what’s going on and my first thought yesterday was just to get in touch with everybody and find out if everybody is safe,” she said.

Thompson’s family lives in Lviv, and says they’re away from the action for now, but she’s worried that won’t always be the case.

“The fear is what will happen if Putin’s forces are able to really take over the entire country,” Thompson said. “I do think everyone is going to stay and they’re going to fight, it’s in the Ukrainian spirit. Always has been.”

Thompson’s grandfather outside his childhood church in a suburb of Lviv, Ukraine

Ukrainian-Americans say although it is a stressful time and they are concerned, they have a lot of pride in their homeland and how people there are standing up.

“There’s so much emotion, it’s all of it. It’s fear, it’s helplessness and then hopefulness,” said Ukrainian-American Dianna Derhak. “Also pride in how Ukrainians are handling this. It’s not all awful feelings.”

“I do think everyone is going to stay and they’re going to fight. It is in the Ukrainian spirit, always has been,” Thompson said. “The feeling even yesterday evening switched from one of sadness and grief and fear to one of action.”

Ukrainian Americans will be gathering at the Dnipro Ukrainian Cultural Center on Genesee street at 1p.m. tomorrow to continue shining light on this crisis and to ask for community support.

Sarah Minkewicz is a reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2019. See more of her work here.

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