ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza are recommending all residents, vaccinated and unvaccinated, begin wearing masks in all public indoor facilities, consistent with current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Additionally, the officials announced Monday all Monroe County employees will be required to wear masks or face coverings in public and common areas at all county-operated facilities, effective Tuesday.
“We’re seeing a surge of daily new positive COVID-19 cases in Monroe County and in many other communities across the state. While we know the vaccine is effective, we also know that the delta variant is more contagious than previous strains of the virus,” Bello said in a Monday press release. “As we continue to follow CDC guidance, and in order to slow spread, we’re strongly recommending all Monroe County residents wear a face mask when indoors, where we know the virus spreads even greater.”
“As this pandemic continues to evolve, we must apply what we have learned so far. The vaccines are proven to be highly effective, even against the Delta variant, in preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death,” Dr. Mendoza said. “However, an additional layer of protection will help keep the virus from spreading, especially among our most vulnerable populations including the unvaccinated and immunocompromised. Masks are a proven tool that can help us contain the current surge and protect everyone in our community.”
On Sunday, the CDC listed Monroe County with “substantial” COVID-19 transmission. The CDC’s reporting comes days after it recommended areas with “substantial” and “high” transmission mask up indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
Following the CDC change, Bello said during last week’s coronavirus briefing that there were no plans on re-instituting a mask mandate for Monroe County.
“Right now we are not considering reinstating a mask mandate in our community,” Bello said Thursday. “We don’t think we’re at that point right now, and I’m also not considering a mandate at all for vaccination for Monroe County employees. We do not believe those steps are necessary now and I don’t anticipate those steps will be necessary in the future, because I’m confident — beyond confident in this community’s ability to come together, and keep everyone healthy.”
Areas with “substantial” transmission, according to the CDC, record 50 to 99 cases per week, per 100,000. CDC data Sunday showed Monroe County at 50.02 per 100,000 from Sunday, July 25 to Saturday, July 31.
“I’m very optimistic that people see the numbers are increasing, it’s not just a blip,” Dr. Mendoza told News 8 Monday. “We are clearly entering a phase where the numbers are very consistently increasing. And my hope is that people will look at the numbers and come to the same conclusion that we have: Wearing a mask, even if you’re vaccinated, will go a long way toward preventing that spread indoors.”
In his briefing earlier on Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said local governments should adopt that policy if they are in an area with higher rates of transmission.
“Local governments, follow the CDC masking guidance,” Gov. Cuomo said. “It is up to the local governments. The CDC doesn’t mandate local governments to do it, they recommend it. The state has strongly recommended that local governments do it, but it’s up to the local governments. The only way you overcome the local government is with a state law, which is what we did last time if you remember.”
For much of the pandemic, the CDC advised Americans to wear masks outdoors if they were within 6 feet of one another. Then in April, as vaccination rates rose sharply, the agency eased its guidelines on the wearing of masks outdoors, saying that fully vaccinated Americans no longer needed to cover their faces unless they were in a big crowd of strangers.
In May, the CDC further eased its guidance for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings. The guidance still called for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings, like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but it cleared the way for reopening workplaces and other venues.
Subsequent CDC guidance said fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks at summer camps or at schools, either.
“Right now this is all up to local governments,” Gov. Cuomo said. “If they don’t act, then we’ll be where we were last year where it becomes a statewide emergency and the state will have to act.
“My opinion on the facts — as a New Yorker and not as a governor — I’m going to wear a mask,” Gov. Cuomo said. I’m vaccinated, I don’t think delta variant will put me in the hospital, but if I’m a locality that is a high-risk locality, and the locality says where a mask, I’m going to wear a mask. I wore a mask for a year and it’s not the biggest deal in the world, because I could get the delta variant and then I could spread the delta variant, so better safe than sorry.”
Also Monday, Bello and Dr. Mendoza announced, in agreement with University of Rochester Medical Center and Rochester Regional Health, that the area’s most prominent health care providers would require employees to be vaccinated by September 8, or undergo regular testing for COVID-19.
“In the hospitals they’re requiring either a vaccine or testing, so people still have that choice, but we certainly hope people will get the vaccine,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Because we know that’s the most effective way to stop the virus in its tracks, but there are going to be people for whatever reason who are not yet vaccinated. We want to keep our patients safe, we want to keep our colleagues and our health care heroes safe and so we want to make sure we’ve done everything we can to prevent the spread in our hospitals. If we can’t get everybody vaccinated we’ll want to cover our based and test everybody else.”
This is a breaking news update. Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.