ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Friday March 11 marks exactly two years since Monroe County’s first confirmed case of COVID-19.
“It wasn’t a matter of if, but when the virus would arrive here — and we’ve been preparing for this,” Monroe County Executive Adam Bello said of the first known local case.”
Two years later and it appears the end, or “endemic,” is in sight. Nearly all restrictions have been lifted, daily case rates and regional hospitalizations are falling again, and summer event planning is as normal as it has felt since 2019.
It took a lot to get to this point. Seasonal spikes, emerging variants, renewed mandates and subsequent restriction lifts, isolation, quarantine, sickness, death, economic peril, glimmers of hope: Here’s a look back at all that happened then, and since, locally during the pandemic.
March 11, 2020 — 1st confirmed case of COVID-19 in Monroe County
And so it began. Ten days after New York state’s first documented cases of coronavirus, Monroe County reported its first case. It was a man who flew into New York City from Rome, Italy. He then took a bus to Rochester.
This jumpstarted the pandemic locally, and events began to be canceled, including Rochester’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which was to be held just two days after the initial COVID-19 case was reported.
Soon, concerts, sporting events, and gatherings would be canceled as the community waited for what was to come with so little known about the virus.
March 13 & 14, 2020 — State of emergency declared in Monroe County after 2nd COVID-19 case, Monroe County schools close indefinitely
It was on a late Friday night in March when the second local COVID-19 case was confirmed. Less than 12 hours later, on a Saturday morning, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello declared a state of emergency.
The second COVID-19 case resulted in the first local hospitalization from the virus, and the patient was a teacher at Greece Arcadia Middle School. During that state of emergency press conference, Greece Central School District Superintendent Kathleen Graupman announced all GCSD schools would be closed until further notice.
Just hours later, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello announced that all public schools in the county would be closed, beginning the following Monday, which signaled the beginning of a very strange period of time for most.
March 17, 2020 — Family of 1st COVID-19 patient to die locally: ‘It’s not a joke’
The pandemic soon escalated in Monroe County, about a week after the first documented case, when 54-year-old Alvin Simmons became the first local resident to die from COVID-19.
In just a matter of days, Simmons — an Army veteran and father of two — had experienced light symptoms, then was hospitalized, then put on life support before he ultimately passed.
“We couldn’t even see him. We saw him today after we pulled the plug on him — by video conference,” said Michelle Wilcox, Simmons’ sister.
At this time, there was still so much unknown about the disease, but this emotional tipping point in the community made it abundantly clear how dangerous COVID-19 was.
The pandemic immediately changed the lives of many. From schools and businesses shuttering, to conceptualizing the idea of social distancing, but the virus also changed how people grocery shopped.
Wegmans instituted new hours, cleaning policies, and restrictions on the number of items that people could buy. One of the most popular images of the early stages of the coronavirus was empty shelves at Wegmans in the toilet paper aisle.
Wegmans also put limits on other items like baby wipes, hand sanitizer, and other cleaning products.
“There’s no need to buy 100 rolls of toilet paper,” Then-Gov. Cuomo said during one of his briefings in March. “Where would you even put 100 rolls of toilet paper?”
Another early theme of the pandemic was a general lack of grooming for most. Many will recall having or seeing longer hair than they were used to, and that all started on March 21 when Gov. Cuomo announced the state-mandated closure of barbershops, hair salons, and tattoo and piercing studios.
The order also includes other personal care-related services, like nail technicians, cosmetologists, estheticians, electrolysis, and laser hair removal services.
As the pandemic worsened statewide, the governor’s office took a more active and direct approach to restrictions for non-essential businesses, instead of leaving those decisions to local municipalities.
March 27, 2020 — Cinema Theater provides moment of levity
Life was changing fast because of the pandemic, and for most, those changes weren’t for the better. All of those changes made opportunities for humor even more important.
Thankfully, the good folks at the Cinema Theatre at the corner of South Goodman and South Clinton in Rochester were always ready and willing to step up their funny game with humorous marquee signage.
This one, in particular, was well-received on social:
April 7, 2020 — Preparing for COVID-19 death surge, Monroe County says tractor-trailers will be used to store bodies
Hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst, Monroe County officials said in early April that tractor-trailers would be used to store bodies, if necessary.
Officials said the decision was due to the pandemic, which limited the number of funerals a funeral home could conduct at a time, causing a delay in funerals with an anticipated increase in local deaths.
“64 bodies can fit on each tractor-trailer,” county officials said. “People who die from COVID-19, as well as those who die from non-COVID-19 related reasons, can be stored on the tractor-trailers.”
April 9, 2020 — Rochester summer takes a hit as festivals cancel
One after another, after another, after another.
Rochester’s annual summer festival season, cherished by many as the pinnacle of Flower City living, could not bear the weight of the coronavirus. The Lilac Festival was canceled, then the Jazz Festival, then Corn Hill Arts Festival, and then Park Ave. Fest — which was still five months away when the cancellation was announced. Not long after, virtually all large summer gatherings were impacted.
This was a sign that not only was the summer going to be lacking in events, but that organizers were anticipating a longer pandemic than some were hoping for.
Some festivals, like the Jazz Festival, announced rescheduled dates for the fall, but as we know now, the rescheduled events never took place.
April 15, 2020 — Cuomo mandates all New Yorkers wear masks in public
With the COVID-19 death toll in New York approaching 12,000, then-Governor Cuomo signed an executive order that required all New Yorkers to wear masks in public whenever six feet of social distancing could not be possible.
Although masks now eventually became rather commonplace, at the time, New York was the first state to require masks in public.
“A reality check; there are still some 2,000 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New York each day,” Cuomo said. “‘We’re out of the woods,’ no we’re not. We’re in the woods. The good news is, great news is, that we can control the spread.”
April 18, 2020 — Golf courses allowed to reopen across New York
Normalcy? Not entirely, but golf courses getting the green light to reopen was a big first step in doing… well, anything.
Unlike other industries, it was a constant back and forth for golf courses. Initially, golfers were treated to an early spring that allowed many courses to welcome more golfers in March than at any time in recent history. Then on March 22, golf courses were closed when they were not deemed essential business by the governor’s initial executive order.
Later that week, courses opened back up and were allowed to operate with social distancing provisions. On April 9, courses were closed once again after they were explicitly listed in the list of non-essential businesses. Then nine days later they were allowed to operate once more.
Scrambling for par, for sure.
April 27, 2020 — A dozen people gather at ‘Reopen Rochester’ protest
Not everyone was OK with government-enforced shutdowns due to the pandemic.
About a dozen protesters from a group called “Reopen Rochester” gathered outside the Pittsford Wegmans to demonstrate against the forced closures.
Some wore masks, others didn’t. Some stood six feet apart while others didn’t. They argued that the viral spread couldn’t be totally prevented and opted for business as usual while nature took its course.
Since then there’s been a number of local “reopen” protests, ranging in attendance numbers.
Cuomo announced that schools would remain closed for the remainder of the academic year, after they had already been shuttered for weeks.
“We don’t think it’s possible to do that [reopen] in a way that will keep our children, students, educators safe so we’re going to have our schools remain closed through the end of the year,” Cuomo said. “The decisions on the education system are obviously critically important. We must protect our students.
With schools officially closed, the governor told districts to turn their attention to the Fall, and come up with plans for which they could reopen safely at that time.
Before the phased reopening plan began, local restaurants began scrambling to create some revenue.
After being closed since mid-March, Harry G’s, the Highland Park Diner, and Balsam Bagels were three of the first local favorites to reopen for takeout, curbside pick-up and/or delivery. While many national chains had the infrastructure to quickly adapt to losing indoor dining capacity, local eateries had to adjust on the fly, with little guidance, and smaller operating budgets.
Few industries have been hit harder by the pandemic than the food-service industry, but local support helped many Rochester restaurants survive so far, while many could not navigate the financial uncertainty brought about by COVID-19.
May 11, 2020 — Rochester, Finger Lakes get green light to begin reopening
Exactly two months after Monroe County’s first confirmed cases of COVID-19, Cuomo delivered a briefing from Irondequoit to announce the Rochester and Finger Lakes region would be among the first in the state to qualify for phase one of reopening under New York’s guidelines.
“It’s an exciting new phase, we’re all anxious to get back to work, we want to do it smartly we want to do it intelligently, but we want to do it,” Cuomo said.
Phase one allowed for some industries to resume operation, including construction, manufacturing and wholesale supply chain, retail (with curbside pickup), agriculture, forestry, and fishing.
While restrictions were still in place, it was a big step in a return to (somewhat) normalcy for local businesses and residents.
Celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and other milestones became impossible because of the coronavirus. So a new popular process emerged: The drive-by parade.
One example of the many local parades over the past year was on May 12 when there was a tremendous show of support for Rochester’s own “Harmonica Pete” DuPre, a World War II veteran celebrating his 97th birthday:
Unrelated to COVID, but of note: DuPre known as “Harmonica Pete” for playing the National Anthem at sporting events across the country and around the world, died in January of this year. He was 98 years old.
The Rochester and Finger Lakes region was one of five statewide that first advanced to phase two of reopening, which signaled the long-awaited return of hair cuts.
Businesses allowed to reopen in phase included barbershops/hair salons, commercial buildings, retail rental, repair, and cleaning, auto dealerships/rentals, offices, general retail (with restrictions); and real estate.
“I feel confident that we can rely on this data and the five regions that have been in phase one can now move to phase two because that data has been reviewed and the experts say to us it’s safe to move forward because people have been smart and you haven’t seen the spike,” Cuomo said.
June 3, 2020 — Outdoor dining at restaurants resumes in time for summer
Just in time for some summer weather, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that outdoor dining at restaurants would be allowed under phase two of New York state’s reopening guidelines.
“Thanks to the people of New York and the nurses, doctors and essential workers, today we have the lowest number of hospitalizations ever and we have the lowest death toll ever,” Gov. Cuomo said. “We are continuously evaluating activities that can be safely reopened, and today we are adding outdoor seating at restaurants to phase two.”
Outdoor tables were to be spaced six feet apart, and all staff were mandated to wear face coverings, while customers were required to wear face coverings when not seated.
As the coronavirus situation improved in New York, the Rochester and Finger Lakes region continued to meet the criteria to advance reopening phases.
Phase three brought the return of indoor dining, personal care businesses such as tattoo and piercing facilities, massage therapy and spas, nail specialty, tanning establishments and more.
“This overall situation, I don’t know how to say it, we need caution,” Gov. Cuomo said. “We have to beware, we need warnings, you take your pick. The numbers are good, everything we’ve done has been exactly right up until now.”
Through weekends and holidays, the former governor held coronavirus briefings for the first 111 days of the pandemic in New York.
With the virus becoming increasingly contained statewide, Cuomo announced his final briefing, which was a 12-minute segment from his office, speaking directly to New Yorkers.
“Thank you to all the people who sent me letters, and tweets, and wave on the street or give a thumbs up,” Cuomo said. “I can’t express how much it means to me; your energy keeps me going. “To the 59 million viewers who shared in these daily briefings, thank you. Thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt. Thank you for believing in me and giving me support — good Lord knows I needed it, and don’t worry I’m not going anywhere.
“Today we have done a full 180 from worst to first,” Cuomo said. “We are controlling the virus better than any state in the country, and any nation on the globe. We have the lowest weekly infection rate, less than 1%, and we have the lowest weekly average of lives lost.
“We showed that in the end, love does win,” Cuomo said. “Love does conquer all, that no matter how dark the day gets, love brings the light. That is what I will take from the past 111 days and it inspires me.”
Though not a daily occurrence, the governor has continued his briefings as necessary throughout the year.
June 24, 2020 — Phase four Friday: No gyms, malls or theaters yet, but social gatherings and religious services expanded
The Rochester, Finger Lakes region became one of the first in the state to advance to phase four reopening under New York’s guidelines.
Phase four marked the final phase of the reopening process, which covered guidance for arts, entertainment, recreation, and education.
However, not all businesses and organizations previously believed to fall under phase four will be allowed to open on the first day of which — until further notice. Malls, gyms, casinos, movie theaters, and amusement parks will not reopen on the first day of phase four, but will have to wait for further guidance.
While those businesses would remain closed when phase four began, other areas of recreation, including museums, aquariums and zoos will be allowed to reopen, with safety precautions in place.
Other phase four guidelines included expanding the allowed size of social gatherings from 25 people to 50 people, and expanding attendance of religious services from 25% capacity to 33%.
June 29, 2020 — Railroad Street businesses to close traffic and create outdoor recreation space near Rochester Public Market
Rochester neighborhoods got creative in maximizing the available outdoor space for customers, like the Railroad Street district near the Public Market.
Businesses there closed off traffic to create an “extended outdoor pedestrian-friendly food and beverage space.” Businesses working collaboratively together there included Black Button Distilling, Rohrbach Brewing Company, Boxcar Donuts, Katboocha, Bitter Honey, and the Object Maker.
July 8, 2020 — After months of being closed, area malls excited to reopen
It’s no secret that the rise of online shopping has hurt business activity at brick-and-mortar stores, including malls, but when these retail destinations finally got the green light to reopen, consumers were excited.
Malls in phase four regions could reopen with approved HVAC systems in place. And although all retailers weren’t ready right on launch day, some shoppers were happy just to be able to get out and walk through the mall again, and businesses were excited for some long-awaited traffic.
“We’ve been waiting for this day for a long time, it’s been about four months that we’ve been closed, so we’re obviously thrilled to get opened and our merchants are really excited they’ve been very anxious to get the doors open,” said Eastview General Manager Mike Kauffman.
July 14, 2020 — Gov. Cuomo’s coronavirus poster art explained: Cartoon timeline of pandemic in New York
As New York’s handling of the pandemic continued to improve, Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled a poster during a public briefing that loosely depicted the state’s coronavirus story.
“They will be talking about what we did for decades to come,” Gov. Cuomo said. “It really was a historic moment. Personally traumatic, socially traumatic, and historic.”
The shape of the curve resembled the governor’s previously-used model of Mount Marcy, used to demonstrate the state’s curve of the virus over time since the first confirmed case on March 1.
It featured many small details, including projection models, “Economy Falls,” a timeline, early stages, mountain summit, reopening, and a final descent.
Click the link above for a detailed explainer.
July 17, 2020 — Breweries get creative in response to Cuomo’s new restaurant guidance on alcohol, food service
Remember when “Cuomo chips” were all the rage in summer 2020?
The governor’s office issued guidance on alcohol service that required a food order to go along with it. It was murky at first as to what constituted as “substantive food,” including some confusion over chicken wings, but bars and restaurants were quick to get creative with their menus in order to sustain alcohol sales.
As the coronavirus loosened its grip in the northeast, the virus tightened throughout the south and midwest over the summer. Once the epicenter of the pandemic, New York state saw some of the lowest infection rates nationwide during the warmer months.
In an effort to prolong the virus return, New York state joined Connecticut and New Jersey for a tri-state coronavirus travel advisory, which required incoming travelers from states with high infection rates to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Travelers who failed to do so could face up to a $10,000 fine.
The list of impacted states updated every Tuesday throughout the summer, but eventually the three states who formed the advisory, began meeting the criteria for which is to be enforced, rendering it useless as the virus swung back into focus after the fall and beyond.
August 7, 2020 — Back to school: Gov. Cuomo gives New York state districts green light to reopen in September
In an announcement that many teachers, parents, and students eagerly awaited, Gov. Cuomo said in early August that New York state schools could reopen in September. At that point, New York had fallen off as the epicenter of the pandemic, and had one of the lowest infection rates in the country.
“By our infection rate, all school districts can open everywhere in the state every region is below the threshold that has been established,” Cuomo said. “If you look at our infection rate, we’re in the best situation in the country. If anyone can open schools, we can.”
Over the summer, each school district submitted a reopening proposal to the New York State Department of Education, pending approval to move forward. In early August, those districts received that approval.
Some districts opted for remote-learning only, like the Rochester City School District, while others laid out a hybrid model that combined remote and in-person instruction.
While there was concern then, schools have proven to be one of the sections of society that maintains a low transmission rate of the virus.
October 15, 2020 — Monroe County has lowest COVID-19 case rate in country for communities with more than 500,000 people
Before the recent COVID-19 surge locally, Monroe County was doing better than every other metro in the country in terms of infection rate.
Citing a New York Times study, County Executive Bello said that Monroe County has the lowest rate of COVID-19 cases in the country, for communities with more than 500,000 people. Still, the County Executive says it’s important that residents stay the course that has led to that relative success.
Of course, as we’ve since seen with consistent record-breaking updates regarding all-time highs for single-day increases, hospitalizations, and active cases — the low infection rate didn’t last.
October 30, 2020 — Monroe County reports 136 new COVID-19 cases, highest number since the start of the pandemic
In late October, Monroe County Department of Public Health officials reported 136 new COVID-19 cases, the largest single-day increase throughout the pandemic up until that point.
Since then, that record has been broken consistently throughout October and November, as the virus batters the community and threatens hospital capacity. With much of the national and local attention on the forthcoming presidential election, the pandemic was rapidly worsening in our area.
That daily new case record would be broken many, many times since then with the highest total currently sitting at more than 4,000 on January 5, 2022 during the omicron spike.
As COVID-19 surged locally, and statewide, the state government initiated new restrictions aimed and reducing the viral spread.
Although not as restrictive as NY PAUSE orders in place earlier in the year, it was a striking reminder that COVID-19 wasn’t easing up.
The governor announced in mid-November:
- Any bar, restaurant, or establishment with New York State Liquor Authority license must close for dine-in by 10 p.m. Takeout and pickup only after 10 p.m.
- Gyms must close by 10 p.m.
- Private house gatherings reduced to 10 people
With forthcoming orange zone designations, those restrictions would soon go even further.
December 15, 2020 — COVID-19 vaccine arrives in Rochester, bringing hope of pandemic’s end
More than nine months after the coronavirus arrived in Monroe County, Pfizer’s vaccine arrived, and distribution began shortly thereafter.
At the time health said it would, optimistically, take until summer 2021 to reach necessary immunization of the population, but it was still a day to celebrate in a year with such limited opportunities to do so.
Of course, we know now that summer 2021 would not be the end of the pandemic.
January 5, 2021 — ICU nurse from New York becomes first fully vaccinated person in US
Nurse Sandra Lindsay, who became the first person in the U.S. to receive the COVID-19 vaccine last December, was given her second and final dose back in early January, becoming the first person in America to become fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Lindsay, who treated some of the sickest coronavirus patients in the New York City borough and lost two of her family members to the virus, made history when she received the first dose on Dec. 14.
“The vaccine is safe, I haven’t had any side effects,” she said. “It’s our civil responsibility in a crisis to just band together and get through this. COVID-19 has stripped us of our lives, our livelihoods, and 2021 is our opportunity to reclaim that.”
More than 11 months later, some three billion people are now fully vaccinated worldwide, but the pandemic is still raging.
January 14, 2021 — Indoor dining resumes for orange zone restaurants as New York alters COVID-19 rules
Might seem like a long time ago now, but remember the COVID-19 color zone rules that New York state implemented? For a time, a restaurant on one side of the street could allow for indoor dining while another across the street couldn’t, because of high positivity rates based on zip codes and neighborhoods.
Unsurprisingly, businesses and restaurant owners sued the state to try and change the rules, with some success. Following a State Supreme Court ruling in Erie County on indoor dining, New York changed its guidance for COVID-19 orange zones in regards to restaurants.
All restrictions for the “orange” and “yellow” zones would be lifted a week later.
The first few weeks of vaccination efforts were restricted due to limited availability of doses, but that all started to change in February when a second mass vaccination site opened in Rochester.
After vaccines were limited to only the population’s elderly, most vulnerable, and essential workers, eligibility slowly expanded as more and more people received their vaccination.
Despite the two local mass vaccination sites at the Dome Arena and the former Kodak Hawkeye parking lot, there would still be limits on who could be vaccinated as the community continued its slow descent from the COVID-19 surge of the recent holiday season.
March 24, 2021 — Lilac Festival returns: Dates announced after event approved by Monroe County, New York state
After a year of canceled events and festivals, news of the Lilac Festival’s return sent hope throughout Monroe County.
Following approval from the county and New York state, and coinciding with improving local COVID-19 trends, Lilac Festival organizers gathered in March to announce plans for the revamped annual event.
Opposed to the traditional 10-consecutive days, the festival instead would take place over three consecutive weekends in May — a format that organizers will continue in 2022. There was also no free live music in the 2021 iteration, a staple of the festival, but there were private ticketed concerts and events where people could be spaced out safely in an outdoor setting.
The Lilac Festival was the first major local event to announce a comeback in 2021 and signaled a possibility for many others to resume their own.
April 27, 2021 — 2021 Park Avenue Summer Art Festival canceled due to COVID-19
Another reminder of an ongoing pandemic.
As some events like the Lilac Festival and Party in the Park were ramping up for their 2021 return, other events like the Park Avenue Summer Art Festival, Corn Hill Arts Festival, the International Rochester Jazz Festival, and others made the difficult decision to cancel their programming for a second consecutive year.
These events take months and months of planning, and with so much uncertainty regarding the pandemic, many organizers elected to forego the unknown and cancel for another year.
April 28, 2021 — No more food requirement for alcohol service in New York, lawmakers repeal Gov. Cuomo’s order
Remember those “Cuomo Chips?”
The rule that required customers to purchase “substantive food” in order to receive alcohol service in New York bars and restaurants came to an end in late April when lawmakers in the New York State Legislature voted to repeal the governor’s emergency order.
That order was put in place in July 2020 and was the recipient of a lot of criticism and scrutiny, including a debate over if chicken wings counted as food.
The repeal of this measure was widely celebrated in the food and beverage industry, understandably.
May 22, 2021 — Seabreeze reopens after historic yearlong closure
After a year with no funnel cakes, no screams, and no Jack Rabbit, Seabreeze Amusement park was back up and running on May 22.
Seabreeze was closed for the full 2020 season due to the pandemic, which was also the year the iconic Jack Rabbit roller coaster turned 100 years old.
The Seabreeze season opened with some restrictions, like tickets needing to be purchased in advance, masks required on the ground, and attendance limited to 1/3 capacity, but for many in the region it was a welcome return to a semblance of normalcy heading into the summer months.
June 15, 2021 — State’s COVID-19 mandates are lifted, effective immediately
With New York state reaching 70% of residents 18 and older with at least one vaccine dose, the remaining COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.
More than 15 months after the state’s initial state of emergency was declared, things began to change. Cleaning and disinfection, social distancing, health screenings, and contract tracing will be lifted for retail, food services, offices, gyms, amusement parks, barbershops and hair salons.
“This is a momentous day, and we deserve it,” Cuomo said. “We will remember where we were, and where we’re doing. If you had said to us on Day 1, that we were going to be capable of the accomplishment we have reached, no one would have believed you. We had the highest positivity rate of anywhere on the globe.”
Although most restrictions were lifted, some stayed in place, including federal guidelines: COVID-19 health protocols would remain in place for large-scale event venues, schools pre-k to 12th grade, public transit, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, nursing homes, and health care facilities. Unvaccinated people would still be required to keep a social distance of six feet and wear a face mask.
That night fireworks were lit all across New York to honor the state’s progress and its essential workers.
July 1, 2021 — Party in the Park returns for 2021: Downtown Rochester summer concert series is back after 1 year hiatus
Welcome news for music fans in Rochester back in July after organizers from Rochester Events! announced the return of Party in the Park.
The downtown summer concert series celebrated its 25th anniversary in the Flower City in 2021, and offered families some safe and affordable outdoor fun while other summer staples, like Corn Hill Arts Festival and Park Avenue Summer Arts Festival, remained canceled.
For eight weeks throughout the summer, people gathered at Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Park at Manhattan Square on Thursdays from touring and local music acts from a wide variety of genres.
July 9, 2021 — Delta variant in Rochester: ‘Small but appreciable’ percent of local coronavirus cases
As delta was becoming the dominant coronavirus strain in many areas throughout the world in early July, it was only first arriving in Rochester.
Monroe County would see the delta surge in the months to follow, as it soon would account for the majority of new cases in our area.
Although omicron could potentially overtake delta as the dominant variant locally, as of late December, delta was still fueling the rise in new cases and COVID hospitalizations throughout the region.
August 2, 2021 — Monroe County recommending masks for all indoor public settings regardless of vaccination status
After months of relaxed COVID-19 restrictions, the delta variant was beginning to take hold locally, across the nation, and beyond.
That led to public officials reconsidering masking and vaccine requirements and recommendations, whereas previously the CDC said fully vaccinated individuals did not need to wear masks in public.
Early August brought a new surge in Monroe County, and although Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza said they recommended indoor masking in all public settings, regardless of vaccination status, they fell short of declaring widespread mandates and requirements for such seen earlier in the pandemic.
August 16, 2021 — Vaccine mandate issued for all New York health care workers, long-term care employees
New York state made its first sweeping vaccine mandate in the summer when officials announced all health care workers in New York state, including staff at hospitals and long-term care facilities like nursing homes, adult care, and other congregate care settings, would be required to get vaccinated by September 27.
The mandate would end up being a discussion for the courts to take up, specifically regarding religious exemptions, but would ultimately lead to an ultimatum for many of the state’s health care workers: Either get vaccinated, or find a new job.
September 20, 2021 — Hundreds gather at Strong to push back against vaccine mandate
Every Monday for weeks, folks would gather outside Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester to protest against vaccine mandates for health care workers.
Driving down Elmwood Avenue on a Monday afternoon in September brought a familiar sight: Hundreds gathered with signs and flags, chanting and yelling as cars drove by.
Despite the protests, the statewide vaccine mandate for health care workers would go into effect late September and despite concerns about widespread resignations, most local hospital systems saw relatively few leave their workforce.
URMC reported fewer than 300 resignations once the mandate took effect, which represented about 1% of the overall workforce of the region’s largest employer.
September 21, 2021 — More than 700 Bills season-ticket holders request refund after vaccine requirement
Health care employees weren’t the only ones who were going to need vaccines — Bills and Sabres fans would need proof of vaccination to gain entry into the stadiums for games.
When the vaccine requirement went into effect, 762 Bills season-ticket holders requested refunds. For reference, that was about 1% of the stadium’s 71,608 seating capacity.
November 30, 2021 — State of emergency declared in Monroe County due to rising COVID-19 hospitalizations
Rapidly rising COVID-19 hospitalizations brought on a second local pandemic state of emergency, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello announced late last month.
The first county state of emergency was issued back in March 2020 as the pandemic was just getting started locally and abroad. That state of emergency expired in July of this year as vaccination rates increased, and new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths fell to pandemic lows.
Bello said he proclaimed the state of emergency to give the county more flexibility to counter the latest surge of COVID-19, but added that there would be no sweeping mandates instituted Tuesday, rather the introduction of a phased approach should conditions worsen.
“I am responsible for taking the steps tailored to the issues that Monroe County residents are currently facing,” Bello said of the state of emergency.
Some of these preventative measures include mask requirements in county buildings, and other common mitigation efforts like encouraging masking in public, social distancing, hand washing.
According to the county executive, state of emergency measures will stay in place until COVID-19 hospitalizations are stabilized locally.
December 1, 2021 — Monroe Ambulance captain leaves hospital after 112-day battle with COVID-19
Members of the Monroe Ambulance team came together to celebrate one of their own.
Monroe Ambulance Captain Mark Porter was discharged from Unity Hospital earlier this month after 112 days of treatment. Porter was semi-retired and fully vaccinated when he was hospitalized with COVID-19 four months ago. He says he believes it was the vaccine and hospital staff that helped keep him alive.
“My first two months, I don’t remember a thing,” Porter said. “I was in an induced coma on a ventilator. And after that, I kind of came around and every day was a day closer to me — a day closer to today. So it was a long road, and I am where I am because of the people at Unity Hospital.”
As he left the hospital, Monroe Ambulance team members cheered on their captain. His caretakers told News 8 at one point Mark couldn’t even walk.
December 4, 2021 — National Guard arrives to Monroe County to relieve healthcare workforce
Fifteen members with the National Guard came to Monroe Community Hospital in Rochester with the goal to alleviate staffing shortages across the health care system.
Twenty-six National Guard members eventually arrived in total. Their deployment to Rochester was a result of two factors — a rise in medical staff shortages and an executive order issued by Governor Kathy Hochul.
The declaration saw 120 different members sent to hospitals throughout the state.
An increase in hospitalizations across Upstate New York has depleted healthcare systems to the point staff cannot keep up without the added support.
December 10, 2022 — Gov. Hochul: New York to implement indoor mask mandate for public places, or require vaccination
With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surging statewide, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a new mandate that would require masks to be worn in all indoor public places, unless the business or venue required proof of vaccination.
This measure went into effect December 13, 2021 and will remain so through January 15, 2022, after which the state will re-evaluate based on current conditions.
A violation of any provision of the new mask measure is subject to all civil and criminal penalties, including a maximum fine of $1,000 for each violation. According to the governor, the respective business would face the fine for a violation, not an individual for not wearing a mask.
The governor would later announce $65 million for counties to assist in enforcing the mask mandate.
December 13, 2022 — Livingston, Ontario Counties will not enforce new mask mandate, Monroe will
As New York’s new mask mandate took effect, some counties said they would not enforce the rule.
While county leaders in Livingston and Ontario said they supported mask-wearing, they said the new mandate was “unenforceable” and left too much on counties to account for compliance.
Monroe County, however, announced that it would support and enforce the new mask mandate. Wyoming County said it would let individual businesses decide for themselves.
January 2, 2022 — RCSD student dies from COVID, school officials say
Another painful reminder of a seemingly never-ending pandemic.
A Rochester City School District student has died from COVID-19, according to officials from the school he was attending.
School leaders from Rochester’s Leadership Academy for Young Men posted the following on the school’s Facebook account:
“Dear Leadership Academy Family,
It is with intense sadness to have to communicate the passing of Derrick Watson due to Covid. Derrick was a loveable and thoughtful young man. A plan of support for all of us who will definitely need it will be in place for Monday. In the meantime, please offer whatever support you can to each other during this time. Ms. Wall, Derrick’s mom set up a GoFundMe page to help with service expenses.
Please hug your loved ones, if you are able and count all blessings as we enter this New Year.“
To date, more than 1,700 COVID-19 deaths in Monroe County, according to Public Health Department.
The omicron variant brought about daily new records for new COVID-19 cases in Monroe County, especially in early January where thousands of new cases — both from at-home tests and laboratory confirmed — would be reported each day.
New cases skyrocketed as the county averaged more than 2,500 new cases per day during this post-holiday surge. Regional virus hospitalizations would spike shortly thereafter.
January 11, 2022 — Gov. Hochul: COVID-19 contact tracing ‘not a requirement anymore’
Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York State Public Health Commissioner announced that COVID-19 contact tracing would no longer be required, as omicron surged daily new case totals to unprecedented levels.
According to the health commissioner, the big change was that if New Yorkers tested positive for COVID-19, they should no longer wait for a call from the state health department.
Dr. Bassett says the volume of new cases statewide has put a strain on local health department resources that can be better utilized elsewhere. She said the state will instead launch a website with testing form submissions so people can have the necessary paperwork for the employers should they test positive.
“The fact is we are changing the approach to contact tracing because of the winter surge,” Dr. Bassett said. “This is about flexibility. We are moving to more self-management and our guidance remains in line with the CDC. This will help local governments make a big difference in vaccination and testing.”
“We are going to be allowing counties to decide if they want to contact trace,” Gov. Hochul said. “This is not a requirement anymore. Everyone knows someone who has had it. It spreads quickly and it doesn’t make sense to have counties keep up with who gets tested for positive when they could be focusing on vaccinations instead.”
While the state will no longer require contact tracing, both the governor and the health commissioner said local county and health departments can still keep contact tracing programs in place should they choose to do so.
January 13, 2022 — Supreme Court halts COVID-19 vaccine rule for businesses
The Supreme Court stopped the Biden administration from enforcing a requirement that employees at large businesses be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing and wear a mask on the job.
At the same time, the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the U.S.
The court’s conservative majority concluded the administration overstepped its authority by seeking to impose the vaccine-or-test rule on U.S. businesses with at least 100 employees. More than 80 million people would have been affected by the mandate.
January 20, 2022 — Gov. Hochul: New York COVID-19 cases down 47% over past week
After weeks of record-breaking new case totals, omicron’s grip on New York began ot loosen.
The seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases statewide dropped 47.1% compared to the week prior in mid-January.
Additionally, the governor reported the seven-day average of new COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide was down 20.5% Thursday compared to last week.
Furthermore, the governor said Thursday that the seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 residents is now declining in all regions throughout the state.
Gov. Hochul said New York was “turning the corner” on the omicron surge.
January 22, 2022 — Sen. Schumer calls for FEMA to help with Rochester health care staffing shortages
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer traveled to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester Friday afternoon to call for more federal resources to help on the COVID-19 frontlines.
The senator said he wants flexible, medically-trained military staff to provide relief to hospitals like Strong to combat the omicron surge in Upstate New York.
“We all know that omicron is here in New York,” Sen. Schumer said. “COVID rates are raging again, especially here in Rochester, where positivity is close to the highest in the state. When you think about the Monroe County population, averaging 1,000 new COVID cases per day is a heck of a lot.”
Schumer announced a push for FEMA, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the Department of Health and Human Services to provide support personnel for struggling Upstate hospitals, alleviate chronic staffing shortages, and get healthcare workers the relief they need.
The senator said it’s time to “bring in the troops.” He said a FEMA task force has medically-trained disaster teams and Schumer is requesting teams be sent to Rochester. He said each military team consists of about 30 doctors, nurses, and technicians. Schumer said he requested several teams respond to the Rochester area.
January 28, 2020 — Hochul extends NY mask mandate, calls it ‘a critical tool’ for state
Gov. Kathy Hochul extended the state’s mask mandate through Feb. 10, nine additional days after it was initially set to expire.
The governor said the mandate has been a “critical tool” in fighting a recent surge of the virus caused by the omicron variant. The policy will be reviewed every two weeks.
“We didn’t know at the time when we put in our mask or vaccine requirement … what January or February could look like,” Hochul explained before announcing the expansion. “If we can continue on this rapid trend downward, we’ll be in a good place … I need that flexibility.”
Positivity rates in the state are on the decline, currently resting at 6.15%. Hospitalizations are also dropping from a high of 12,000 patients — still, Hochul told residents to continue taking the virus seriously “until we’re out of this storm.”
January 31, 2022 — NY mask mandate granted full stay during appeals
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s indoor mask mandate was granted a full stay by New York’s Appellate court, as the appeals process continues.
The New York State Supreme Court Judge’s decision, last week, ruled executive order unconstitutional, saying neither the governor nor state health commissioner had the authority to enact the mandate without the state Legislature.
After New York’s Appellate court ruling on Monday, the mask mandate would be upheld for all public indoor spaces during the state’s appeal.
On Friday, Gov. Hochul extended the “mask or proof of vaccination” policy for all indoor public places until February 10th, but that policy would be re-evaluated every two weeks.
February 9, 2022 — Gov. Hochul: New York to lift indoor mask mandate for businesses Thursday, remains in place for schools
New York state’s indoor mask or vaccine requirement for indoor businesses and venues will be lifted effective Thursday, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced during a COVID-19 briefing.
The mask requirement for schools, some health care facilities, and other settings, however, will remain in effect, according to the governor. She added counties, cities, and businesses will be allowed to make their own respective decisions for masking or vaccine requirements if they choose to do so.
February 18, 2022 — New York State: Healthcare worker booster requirement will not go into effect
The New York State Department of Health announced that their planned enforcement of booster requirement for healthcare workers, which was slated to start February 21st, will no longer go into effect.
The DOH says the decision was made to avoid potential staffing issues, and to give workers more time to get the booster.
In the same release, however, the DOH says that 75% of healthcare workers have received or were willing to get the shot. In light of that data, the agency says that they are working to expand access for healthcare workers.
Up until then, New York State Healthcare workers were once again at risk of losing their jobs.
February 27, 2022 — Gov. Hochul: New York’s school mask mandate ends Wednesday
Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the statewide masking requirement in schools will be lifted, effective March 2.
The governor cited declining COVID-19 cases and new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Gov. Hochul said counties and cities could keep their own mandates in place, and parents could still choose to send their kids to school in masks.
According to the governor, the new rules apply to children 2 years and older in childcare facilities. New York has some 2.7 million schoolchildren statewide. The mandate lift extended to daycare settings as well.
March 1, 2022 — Highmark Stadium drops COVID vaccine requirement
Bills fans will no longer be denied access to Highmark Stadium if they’re unvaccinated.
Officials announced Monday that the venue’s vaccination policy, which requires everyone 12 and up to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, has been dropped.
It was also previously a requirement that attendees age 5-11 have at least one shot.
Although the Bills season is over, Highmark Stadium still hosts an occasional concert over the summer. Metallica was recently announced as a headlining act coming to the venue in August.
March 4, 2022 — Wegmans employees no longer required to wear masks
Wegmans will no longer require its employees to wear masks while in stores.
According to the grocery store chain’s website, “Unless mandated at the state or local level, employees and customers are no longer required to wear a face mask while in our stores.”
The requirement for Wegmans shoppers to wear masks in local stores was dropped last month when Gov. Kathy Hochul lifted the statewide indoor mask mandate.