Bello, Dr. Mendoza: At home COVID test will keep residents ‘healthy & safe’ during holidays

Coronavirus

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Free rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests will soon flood the community.

That was the message from Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza, who were joined by Rochester Mayor-elect Malik Evans, Henrietta Town Supervisor Steven Schultz, and other community leaders for a Wednesday afternoon press conference at the Monroe County Fleet Center.

Bello announced last week that the county had ordered 750,000 COVID-19 at-home tests for residents to be able to use ahead of anticipated holiday gatherings. The ordered testing kits arrived Wednesday.

“Now it’s time to flood the community with these tests and bring them directly to you,” Bello said.

“If any one of us takes a test before a holiday gathering, a lot of infectious people will stay home instead,” Dr. Mendoza said. “These tests will prevent infections and potentially save lives. Will it mean more cases reported? No doubt, but we can use this information of positive cases to prevent hospitalizations rather than stand by helpless as hospitalization rates sore.”

According to the county executive, the purchase order for the tests was secured from $7.25 million the county received from the federal CARES Act.

County officials told News 8 Tuesday that of the 750,000 tests, 250,000 would be allocated for local school districts and the rest would be distributed to municipalities and residents. According to county executive Bello, each test kit includes two tests for a total of 750,000 at-home tests, and 375,000 total kits.

The goal is for residents to test for COVID before participating in upcoming holiday gatherings with friends and family in an effort to stymie another holiday surge like Monroe County saw last year.

“Our community is at another critical point in our response to the pandemic,” Bello said. “We want to safely celebrate this holiday season and we owe it to our residents to show them what they could do to keep themselves, and their families, healthy and safe.”

“We will have hundreds of thousands of tests available in our community and we’re going to get them to you soon,” Evans said. “These tests will be available in our R-Centers and throughout Rochester and they will help us isolate the member of the family who might be sick.”

Dr. Mendoza said within 24 hours of the gathering is a good baseline recommendation for residents to take the test, but added that there are circumstances that would change that, like people who isolate before there gathering should take their test closer to when they last were exposed to other people.

When asked about the reliability of the at home tests, Dr. Mendoza commented, “The beauty of the rapid antigen test is that it will tell you if you are contagious. Which is why if you are symptomatic and you take the test and you are positive we are highly confident you are positive and contagious. It’s also the reason why if you were exposed in the last several hours and you take a test now it may not be positive yet. That would be considered a false negative when compared to the PCR test but the reality is until you are symptomatic you are very unlikely to be contagious.”

Additionally Dr. Mendoza highlighted the importance of the correct usage of these tests. “

“It all depends on how we utilize these test kits. For that reason we are providing educational materials to try to help people to understand these nuances but the take home message here is that these rapid antigen test are highly effective at detecting individuals who are contagious and at the end of the day that’s really what we want to know. We will follow the numbers as things unfold and update the public as we know more.”

Although testing will help people identify positive COVID-19 cases, the county executive says the vaccine remains the best tool in fighting the pandemic. On that front, Bello said the county would be adding more than 1,500 additional vaccine appointment slots available this week and going forward.

“Zero people in Monroe County have died from getting the COVID-19 vaccine,” Dr. Mendoza said. “1,506 people died because they did not [get vaccinated].”

Several local test kit distribution events have already been announced:

  • Brighton — Saturday, December 11 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday December 12 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Temple B’rith Kodesh located at 2131 Elmwood Avenue. Proof of residency required. People ca drive, walk, or bike in to receiver their test kit.
  • Chili — Saturday, December 11 from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the lobby of the Community Center located at 3237 Chili Avenue. Proof of residency required and test kits are available for adults only, one kit per customer. Residents with questions can call 585-889-6111 or email ddunning@townofchili.org.
  • Irondequoit — Saturday, December 11, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Irondequoit Department of Public Works located at 2629 E. Ridge Road. Limit one test kit per vehicle. Proof of residency required (such as license or utility ball). Residents can call 585-753-5555 with questions.
  • Penfield — Saturday December 11 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Penfield Town Hall located at 3100 Atlantic Avenue. Proof of residency required. Folks with questions are encouraged to contact Monroe County at 585-753-5555 or visit monroecounty.gov.
  • Sweden — Saturday, December 11 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the south parking lot of the Community Center located at 4927 Lake Road, and the back parking lot of the Town Hall at State Street. Limit one kit per adult in household. For questions, call 585-637-7588 or email supervisor@townofsweden.org.

Supervisor Shultz said other towns would be posting their distribution efforts and events on their respective websites and he encouraged residents to see answer’s through their local elected officials.

“It’s a great opportunity, you know I welcome this,” Chili Town Supervisor David Dunning told News 8 Tuesday. “We’re having larger gatherings than normal. If there’s any level of uncertainty about getting together, it’s important they have the opportunity to do a test.”

“We are receiving 9,300 two-pack test kits, we will be handing out one kit per vehicle. With approximately 38,000 residents, not everyone will receive a kit. Our goal is to get 100% of our allocation in the hands of our residents,” said Tony LaFountain, Penfield Town Supervisor.

“For the residents of Rochester, before you’re going to that big party, or throwing that party, get a hold of these tests and use them,” Evans said.

The order of the at-home testing kits was included in Phase One of the county’s new COVID-19 state of emergency, which was declared last week due to rising regional coronavirus hospitalizations.

Bello said phase one of the state of emergency will include the following measures:

  • A facemask requirement in all county operated facilities for both county employees and members of the public.
  • Reinstating a work from home policy for Monroe County employees who are able to do so.
  • Encouraging local governments, public and private sector employers to follow suit by instituting masking requirements for their employees who work in close contact with other individuals, and allow employees who can work from home to do so.
  • Expanding rapid test operations in the City of Rochester, Greece, and Pittsford — Monroe County has purchased 750,000 rapid tests for distribution to help ensure safe gatherings over the holiday season.

Along with testing, the plan includes recommending more work-from-home policies, and facemasks in all public and private sectors. If these steps don’t help lower the curve, that means Phase Two, which could include measures of proof of vaccination or negative tests for certain activities.

The county executive said they’ll be looking at the numbers diligently before making a decision to move to Phase Two. This means hospitalizations, COVID cases, and how well health care workers are keeping up with staffing and capacity.

The county’s announcement of the test kit order came just two before President Joe Biden announced the national COVID winter response plan, which included making rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests widely available.

The administration’s upcoming rule to require private insurers to cover at-home testing is still being drafted, and many details remain to be worked out, including under what criteria they will be reimbursable, officials said.

Those insured by Medicare and Medicaid would not be eligible, but the White House said as many as 150 million people with private insurance would see easier and cheaper access to the at-home tests. The administration said it is making 50 million COVID-19 tests free for older people and other vulnerable groups for pickup at senior centers and community sites.

On Tuesday, Monroe County reported 803 new COVID-19 cases, one of the largest single-day increases in new cases the county has seen throughout the entirety of the pandemic. County officials also reported an average of 590 new cases per day over the past week and a seven-day average positivity rate of 9.4% — levels not seen locally since the holiday surge of last year.

However, Dr. Mendoza on Wednesday reiterated a sentiment from last month — that the average positivity rate metric may be artificially raised due to reporting of at-home COVID-19 test results.

Residents are required to report positive test results to the county, but not all negative results are reported, so the number of positives reported vs negatives taken and not report, could mean a higher average positive rate being reported than what it really is.

According to the New York State Department of Health, 494 people in the Finger Lakes region were hospitalized with the virus, including 119 in an ICU. To date, Monroe County has reported a total of 1,506 COVID-19 deaths.

As of the Monroe County COVID-19 dashboard’s last local vaccination update on December 5, 492,235 county residents are fully vaccinated and 535,559 have received at least one dose of the vaccine — 82.5% of the county population.

“We are in a state of emergency,” Bello said. “We have lost more than 1,500 people in our community. We need to come together as a community right now and fight this because we have the tools to fight this.”


Watch the full briefing

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

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