WATCH: Coronavirus Town Hall with County Executive Bello, Dr. Mendoza and Rep. Morelle

Coronavirus

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — COVID-19 is on the rise in Monroe County, as the Department of Public Health has recently reported record highs for single-day increases in new cases, active cases, and hospitalizations.

Rep. Joe Morelle, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello, and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza participated in a coronavirus town hall Tuesday on News 8 to answer your pandemic-related questions.

MORE | 7.32% positivity rate in Monroe County’s COVID-19 orange zone, 6.81% in yellow zone

With Tuesday’s update, Monroe County has seen more than 2,000 new COVID-19 cases over the last four days, while some portions of the reason face orange and yellow zone designations, with state-mandated rules and regulations.

Here are some of the topics that were discussed during Tuesday’s town hall:

Contact tracing

“We’ve been using contact tracing well before the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Mendoza said. “For sexually transmitted illnesses and other situations, but obviously a focus during the COVID pandemic. The purpose of tracing is purely this: To identify people who might be at risk and to inform them, so they can take proper precaution. That’s all we’re trying to do.”

Relief package

“Hopefully over the next week to ten days, we’ll be bale to make some headway on the relief package,” Rep. Morelle said. “There are many proposals floating around, I hope that we’ll be able to agree on something — bipartisan, bicameral — to get the support of the White House. It’s important to remember, there are millions of Americans who are struggling right now. We hear fro people every single day in our office, people who have bene unemployed, people who are sick, hospital workers working overtime. We’re in the midst of a crisis.”

“Back in May, the House passed the HEROES Act, which was about a $3.4 trillion package with a whole host of things,” Morelle said. “Here we find ourselves in December, trying still to get the Senate to come along and the White House to come along. I pray there will be something we can do. I would welcome the opportunity to talk, but it has to have some basic things. We have to make sure we’re addressing unemployment insurance and people are employed. We have to make sure that’s there.”

Hospitals

“Hospitals represent, probably, the most precious asset beyond our community itself,” Dr. Mendoza said. “When we get through this pandemic, we’ll look back on these days and say ‘you know, the hospitals really came through for us.’ But right now we need to come through for our hospitals. Our hospitals are under a lot of stress. In fact, as I’m standing here, I just got an email from the department chair indicating Strong Memorial Hospital is experiencing a very concerning surge in hospital admissions.”

“So this is very real,” Dr. Mendoza said. “When we talk about flattening the curve, the curve might be referring to a number of matters, but it’s really the capacity in our hospitals which particularly matters.”

“The reality is, the numbers that we’re seeing now are dwarfing what we saw in March and in April,” Dr. Mendoza said. “The number of cases is higher than it has ever been before, same with the number of hospitalizations. So we have to do everything that we can to prevent the spread of COVID in our community.”

Schools

“There are a lot of different factors that the schools are working through,” Bello said. “The first factor is really about space, making sure the kids have at least six feet of distance within the capacity of the school building. Another factor is based on how much faculty and staff is available. And then to balance that with families that choose to do the remote learning option. Each district will look a little different.”

“Why does it seem like the positivity rate is so high in the community, but stays low in the schools, when we’re testing in schools?” Bello said. “It is because the schools are following the guidelines. Wearing masks, keeping distance. They are following the different rules and they are keeping the spread low.”

Masks

“On one hand we can say very clearly that masks work,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Now are all masks created the same? Are they perfect? No, they don’t always work in the same fashion, but we do know that from local data, from published data, that if enough people wear their mask, it has been proven to work. We’ve not identified any known cases where masks were present.”

“At the end of the day, it is a personal choice,” Dr. Mendoza said. “How do you weigh the risks and benefits of wearing a mask, or not visiting with loved noes. Obviously, not visiting them all is the lower risk situation, but we have to look at this as the complex situation is is. We need to be thoughtful, and we need to be thinking ahead about the risks that might pertain to a particular interaction.”

Restrictions vs. shutdown

“A lot of the restrictions is about balance, and trusting people will do the right thing,” Bello said. ” Asking people to think about not just themselves, but their neighbors and their community. There are two options on how to go about this. One: You can shut everything down. The other option is to look where there is clearly a concentration of cases, positivity rates, hospitalization numbers, and community spread.”

“Where is something happening?” Bello said. “How do you target there instead of a whole shutdown, which would have a much more negative effect on the economy, and a negative effect on schools and being able to keep them open — there are a lot of dominos associated with a shutdown.”

“Think about where you are, and what zone you’re in,” Bello said. “Think about how your behavior impacts those around you and impacts the spread of the virus. So targeting clusters is the strategy. We flattened the curve once before and we can do it again, but we want to try as hard as we can to avoid the massive shutdown. You have a lot of small businesses that are struggling, a lot of families that are struggling, and that is going to increase that pain. So we have a responsibility, particularly to those in the orange zone, to double down on our efforts so we can get their families back to work.”

Small social gatherings

“When we look at the data locally, by far, the vast majority of cases are coming from private gatherings,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Typically in people’s homes or backyards, and almost universally involving parties who are not wearing their masks or who are not observing social distancing.”

“We have reported examples of spread in restaurants and bars,” Dr. Mendoza said. “To be frank, we haven’t seen any examples of cases in barbershops or hair salons, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened there. The reality is, the illness is so prevalent now that the better part of caution would be to assume that anyone you might be around could be an asymptomatic carrier.”

Click the player at the top of the page to watch the full town hall video.

Your coronavirus questions

Do you have coronavirus questions for Bello or Dr. Mendoza? Send us your questions to newsroom@wroctv.com, through Facebook, or through Twitter.

Maeve K. — Since more than 50% of the COVID spread is from asymptomatic or presymptomatic spread, why are there not more than those four orange zone testing sites for asymptomatic people? Early on I was able to get tested weekly to spot check that I was not an asymptomatic carrier, but insurance no longer covers testing unless there are symptoms. I feel there should be opportunities in every town for anyone that wants to be tested.

Cherie G. — Why haven’t public health authorities put out the iPhone/Android connection to detect when you are within six feet of an infected person? It’s live in New York state, but needs to be instituted by the health department. This would be extremely useful for all.

Sally A. — If there is plenty of PPE to go around, why can’t we buy N95 masks?

Deborah H. — With the number of COVID cases and hospitalizations rising in Monroe County, will the county coordinate mask distributions with the towns like it did earlier in the year?

Wanda M. — I understand the importance of keeping schools open, and that COVID cases for schools is quite low, but if the number of positive cases increase in the community, won’t that mean the potential for positive cases in schools will increase as well? Then only requiring a monthly test of 20% of students in orange zones, and 30% in red zones, how are you going to be able to determine asymptomatic cases without regular testing?

J.K. C. — What is the exact plan for delivery of the vaccine? Looking for some specifics here, like who has freezers and portable vaccine coolers? Who is giving the vaccines? Do hospitals have enough high-flow oxygen tubing setups for the people that will require them or will the plan be to go to ventilators?

Elizabeth R. — If the virus is more prevalent among younger adults and our treatments have improved, why are the number of hospitalizations going up so rapidly? Is it simply volume of cases? What’s the proportion of hospitalizations to cases of people in the hospital now compared to back in the spring?

Deidra S. — I have two questions:

  • I’m confused on how the numbers are going up everyday, but officials say the schools are safe — How can that be when our kids are in contact with adults?
  • What happens if schools continue with virtual learning? Can we be fired for continuing to stay home with our kids?

Pete B. — I have a few questions:

  • Are health officials using the PCR test to diagnose in Monroe County?
  • If so, how many cycles are being used?
  • Is a consistent number of cycles being used across the country?

Lavonda W. — Two questions:

  • With the steady rise in positive COVID-19 cases, will Rochester go into a red zone?
  • What about the Monroe County Jail? Will inmates with non-violent offenses or 90 days left on their sentences be released? Inmates and staff have families and the goal is to keep everyone safe.

Cate H. — At what point will elective surgeries be put on hold again? What is the threshold since we’re already far and beyond where we were in the spring for both infection and hospitalization rates.

G — My question is what is a customer to do when shopping and there are people not masked?  I don’t go out much and usually really need the food when I shop, so I feel having to leave is another hardship for people.  I have already been told that the police won’t get involved.  It seems like stores are opening themselves up to lawsuits when someone can trace their loved ones’ death from COVID to their store.  
How can people stay safe and still get to go shopping for food when people aren’t following the “rules”?

Kathleen — A few questions:

  • I tested positive for COVID-19 on October 26, a day after receiving chemo infusion treatment, yet my chemo team was never informed of my positive test except by me. Why not?
  • I was told by the DOH that medical people do not need to be informed because they are already being safe.   Is this protocol going to change, now that we are experiencing a surge in cases?
  • Also, I tested negative with a pooled testing format, on November 19, so how does the DOH and the state plan to determine immunity?
  • Are antibody tests available at no cost to those who have recovered from COVID-19?   Is this information a priority?

Paula Z. — If a decision is made to give the vaccine to first responders and doctors before anyone else couldn’t that be a mistake? What if (heaven forbid) there are bad reactions and they become ill? Then there would be no one to help the sick.

P — Two questions:

  • How can the tests given to the schools be valid if only a handful of people test positive out of thousands that have been tested when our community is on fire with this virus?  
  • Schools are the biggest part of the community and touch all the families within that community, so how can we continue to think that schools are safe when the community is off the charts with COVID?  Are we supposed to trust the tests that the schools have been given?

Jessica O’Connor — With a district as massive as New York City committing to returning K-8 to 5 DAYS of in-person learning as soon as Dec 7, many are wondering why local districts are still getting messaging from the county that 5 days in-person learning is not possible. Where is the phased plan to return all districts to 5 day a week learning? With positivity rates of under 1% in every single school district and close monitoring (testing) in place, are there conversations about perhaps allowing distancing OR masking, not both at all times, so districts can fit their populations in buildings once again?

Barbara Gadd — Since the Governor is stressing that the spread of COVID-19 is coming from small house gatherings why are sporting events that are televised continuing to go on. They have encouraged gatherings since they started in the fall (the start of increased numbers).  Don’t get me wrong I like a weekend filled with college and NFL football. However people are coming together at bars and restaurants and in homes.  The spread is not happening at gyms and salons that the Governor is closing down zip code by zip code.  They do take lists of customers for contact tracing.  What the NFL has is a list of COVID-19 players. Has there been any conversation about the impact this may be causing in our community? Also how is it going to lower the numbers by closing a gym and salon (that have guidelines in place and are followed) and not the adjacent clothing store and home store (that have check out lines 25 people deep)?

D — I would like to know why and how a business that has had numerous positive cases can remain open with no closure for deep cleanings,  not allow remote working, not abide by very strict enforcement of masks wearing, cleaning (the meeting rooms for clients looks like it hasn’t been mopped in years, no paper towels or soap in clients bathrooms,  no cleaning of office space even after a coworker tests positive,  they don’t even dust the building, and continue to allow face to face meetings with clients off the street without any knowledge of them being positive. Many clients are seen closer than 6 ft away, clients come in coughing, sneezing, blowing their noses, not wearing masks, or wearing inappropriately and the CEO and management think it’s business as usual like there is no threat, or virus at all.) I feel an investigation into the business handling of the CDR, AAY, and RCIL on state street be looked into for major issues and non obedience to covid regulations and restrictions.  

Mike V — I am a barber who works in Gates. Now that our shop is in the orange zone, we are seeing our clients just travel a few miles up the road to get their haircut. How is this ok? Isn’t that just a work around, and is causing more crowds in the yellow zones? Shouldn’t all of the same types of business in the area abide by the same regulations? Either we all should stay opened, or all close. Also. Now that I’m forced into unemployment, what is going to happen to us self employed contractors who are left without any income?

K. Young — I am wondering how effective we are actually being at containing the spread. With designated orange zones, people are still allowed to travel to other zones for work, and can even patronize businesses outside of the orange zone. How can this help stop the spread if the people from the larger positivity rate areas are still able to frequent businesses/bars/restaurants that are in yellow or green zones? Shouldn’t it be all or nothing? 

Sarah — For any months NYS and/or Monroe county is on “Pause”, or if you are in an areas that is designated as “yellow, orange, or red”, are car inspections waived during that time?

Rosanne — Please explain how and what tracing is being done as follow up to increased positive test results? Who does the tracing and who pays for it?

Catherine D — I have 2 questions. 

  • Dr Mendoza and Bob Duffy have repeatedly stated that infection rates are overwhelmingly (more than 65%) occurring due to small gatherings, not inside gyms and hair salons.  Given this information, what is the rationale for penalizing these orange zone businesses and further damaging our economy, especially since those orange zone customers can simply travel outside that zone to find services elsewhere?  Wouldn’t those orange zone customers pose a risk to others by going outside the zone?
  • Please consider this scenario:  Person A unknowingly becomes infected with covid outside of their place of employment.  Before showing symptoms, that person goes to work and wears a mask as do all the other employees that person works with, along with practicing social distancing.  Then days later, Person A becomes ill with covid.  Given that safety protocols were already in place, what would be the rationale behind quarantining the other employees?  Don’t the masking and distancing keep us safe from exactly this scenario?

Christine S — If a person was exposed to a positive person, when does quarantine start?  From date of exposure, date of that person testing, or the date of the test resulting? I was exposed 11/20.  My friend fell ill 11/21 was tested 11/23.  Her results were given to her 11/27.  I can’t get tested until 12/2.  I have been quarantining for six days now, no symptoms.

Jessica B — How effective are masks? In a gathering of 5 people, if one has COVID, how likely is it that the others will be protected? I’m wondering if it’s better to just avoid seeing family or if masking is really a sufficient means of protection in small gatherings. We also have children under 2 who will not mask so that is also a consideration.

Julie M — What is the recommendation for quarantine when someone in your household has been in contact with a positive case? We were told by the health dept that no additional quarantining is necessary for family members since they were not in contact with the positive case. Can you please explain the rationale behind this recommendation? Thank you.

Shelia S — Will someone with a Bone Marrow Transplant due to cancer be able to be vaccinated What about diabetics, etc? How long does it take for the vaccine to be fully effective?

Bridgette W — If there are an average of 400+ cases over the last 7 days in Monroe County, why isn’t the entire county an orange zone?

Mike P — Can the numbers the MCHD releases include any additional context?  For example 11 new deaths reported yesterday, could we note the date of death?  Also any demographic/comorbidity information on the deceased/hospitalized.  Or even just a definition of what qualifies as a COVID admission.

Jennifer L — Many essential workers are exposed through contact with the public, clients, or colleagues.  If a particular office (public or private) reaches a certain level of exposure, can rapid tests be provided to the workplace?  It’s getting very difficult for dozens (if not 100+) of these essential employees to individually schedule tests.  By the time results are back, many more will have possibly been exposed even with masking.

Ashley P — Hello! I have a son who is attending a school in the orange zone. If we move to a red zone in the next week or so, does his school have to close again and retest all of the students?

Anonymous — The governor had previously announced that if the positivity rate hit 9% schools would automatically have to close. During his briefing yesterday 11/30/20 he announced changes to the school testing protocols.  After announcing those changes, if we hit a positivity rate of 9% do the schools still have to close?

Andrew L — What is being done to improve testing availability and results coming back in a timely manner? I know people that aren’t getting their results until nearly a week after taking a COVID-19 test, only to be told by the health department they have 24 hours left of quarantine. With so many cases, how can contact tracing even be done at that point?

Gary S. — I am confused regarding when you are not contagious anymore after you have tested positive. I know a couple people who tested positive and was told after 10 days they do not need to quarantine anymore. I tough you were contagious until you tested negative?

Hugo N. — If I have a family member that I love with, that tests positives, what is my direction after? Do I get a test? And if negative immediately, do I go back to work/school? Or should I still quarantine for two weeks?

Mary D. — I would like to know why it takes so long for first responders to get results? Plus, since numbers are so high, why are we not shut down? People in an orange area can just go to a yellow zone.

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