ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Rochester’s major health care providers will require their unvaccinated health care workers to undergo regular COVID-19 testing beginning in September.

In line with New York’s vaccine mandate for state employees, and patient-facing health care workers at state hospitals, employees of Monroe Community Hospital, the Monroe County Department of Public Health, Rochester Regional Health, URMC, the University of Rochester and UR Medicine affiliates will need to be vaccinated by Wednesday, September 8, or undergo frequent regular COVID testing.

The September 8 target date is two days after the state’s mandate which is effective on Labor Day, September 6.

“The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and have proven to protect people from serious illness and death even in the instances vaccinated individuals contract COVID-19. We must remain vigilant against the virus, particularly in health care settings as we continue to see increasing new daily positive cases here in Monroe County and across the state. This is good public health policy and will further protect our community from additional spread of COVID-19,” said Monroe County Executive Adam Bello. 

While details vary slightly at each employer, Monroe County Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mendoza said “all have agreed on a common approach to ensuring a safe environment for staff members and the people they serve,” including:

  • Employees will be required to document their COVID vaccine status–vaccinated, choosing not to be vaccinated, approved medical exemption or approved religious exemption
  • Soon after September 8, unvaccinated employees will be required to undergo frequent regular COVID testing, to wear masks indoors and practice social distancing at work
  • Employees who decline to report their status or to undergo testing will face disciplinary consequences
  • Employees vaccinated after September 8 can be released from the testing, masking, and distancing requirements once their fully vaccinated status is documented with the employer

“Our primary responsibility is to protect the health and safety of our community, and science shows us that getting vaccinated is the most important step we can take at this stage of the pandemic,” said Dr. Mendoza. “The vaccines are safe and effective against serious illness, hospitalization and death caused by COVID-19, and they are the key to eradicating this threat once and for all.”

Earlier Monday, more than 100 people gathered outside of Strong Memorial Hospital on Monday to protest the possibility of a vaccine mandate for hospital workers.

Also Monday, Bello and Dr. Mendoza announced they 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 came 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.

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.

However, the delta variant has since become the dominant strain of coronavirus in the U.S. as cases have been rising locally and across the nation.

Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.