ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza held their weekly coronavirus briefing Thursday — discussing a wide-ranging number of topics as the community sees a spike in new cases.

Increasing cases

The health commissioner delivered some sobering news regarding the recent surge in cases.

“We have added more new cases in the last three days then we did in the entire month of September,” Dr. Mendoza said.

MORE | Bello, Dr. Mendoza on COVID-19 yellow zone in Monroe County: ‘Wake up call for the community’

On Wednesday, Monroe County Department of Public Health officials announced 281 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, the highest single-day increase for Monroe County during the entire pandemic.

The health commissioner said the recent spike in new cases requires a greater effort in regards to contact tracing, an issue he is aware of and anticipating to last for the foreseeable future.

“Make no mistake its been tough,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We’ve had to do a lot of operation engineering because this jump happened relatively quickly, but from my standpoint now, I’m planning for large numbers all the time. I hope to be wrong, but in the interest of public health we are plan for the worst.”

Testing in schools

Earlier this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced portions of Monroe County met the criteria to be determined a yellow zone microcluster, which triggered certain restrictions for residents and impacted areas — including increased testing for students and staff in schools.

“As a father of two kids who attend a school that will need to comply with this requirement, I understand the concern,” Bello said. “As we’ve said for weeks, our schools have done their part. My priority is to keep the schools open, keep people healthy and keep the economy moving.”

The county executive said that New York state supplied Monroe County with 20,000 rapid testing kits to assist with the increased demand for school district testing.

MORE | Why opting out of student COVID-19 testing in Monroe County schools is discouraged

“Each district and each school will have their own plan to carry out their testing, but the number one priority, just like ours, is to keep kids in school safely.”

“At first, I had many reservations and questions about testing in schools — what parent wouldn’t?” Dr. Mendoza said. “As a parent I am very comfortable with allowing my children to get testing.”

During a Monroe County Legislature session this week, a few parents complained about their children being tested, some even saying their kids are not “lab rats,” but the health commissioner pushed back on that suggestion Thursday.

“This is not research,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We’re not trying to publish a paper, we’re not trying to discover a new technology, we’re trying to improve public health, and we cant improve what we can’t measure.”

Positivity rate and hospital capacity

The county executive said that testing in schools is important for lowering the county’s positivity rate, which could remove the yellow zone instructions, but he did say he supported parents who chose to opt out of testing for their children.

“I believe parents have the right to consent or not for testing,” Dr. Mendoza said. “I believe testing is safe and informative and it’s my hope that parents will want to have their children tested as I do. We all want to go back to normal, we’ve done it before and I know we can do it again, but for now we can do better.”

The health commissioner said the rise in cases — to reiterate, more new cases reported in last 72 hours for Monroe County than the whole month of September — has not only led to the yellow zone restrictions, but also a spike in regional hospitalizations.

“For all of those who say ‘well we’re testing more, shouldn’t we see more cases?'” Dr. Mendoza said That is true, but the most important thing to remember is the positivity rate. And as you can see, until very recently, hospitalization and ICU numbers remained relatively constant, but right now were at 146 hospitalizations, which is in contrast to the 26 which we saw two months ago.”

The county executive says as the hospitalization rate increases, the county is working with local hospital systems every day .

“We have gone back to meeting with the hospital systems on a regular basis to look at what their capacity is and that’s tracked daily,” Bello said.

The public health commissioner said Monroe County’s positivity rate is about 4% for Thursday’s updated report, and he says the positivity rate will dictate where we go from here.

“In short we cannot allow ourselves to think that this problem is going to go away until positivity rates decline across all demographics,” Dr. Mendoza said.

As they’ve said all along throughout the pandemic, both local officials agree that everyday actions, like wearing masks and social distancing, is the short-term solution.

“Wearing a mask is a very small price to pay for keeping our schools open and economy flowing,” Bello said.

Yellow zone restrictions

On Wednesday, Gov. Cuomo announced new restrictions for New York State which go into effect on Friday at 10 p.m. statewide, including:

  • 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

The question for many is about why these rules are in place, and how they are going to be enforce, but the county executive says the simple rationale is public health and safety.

“The problem with that [enforcement] is that it implies that our only motivation here is through legal consequences,” Bello said. “The motivation here to comply with 10 people at a residence is public health. The motivation is to keep people safe. The consequence of not following these guidelines is far greater than a legal consequence.”

The county executive said businesses like bars and restaurants aren’t impacted by the 10-person capacity rules because tables are spread at least six feet apart and masking mandates.

“There are different restrictions for the different scenarios and I think that’s just a response to how the virus spreads, and I think that’s reasonable in order to keep businesses open and keep the economy moving,” Bello said.

“With everything else my hope is that people understand the reason for this — it’s not because I actually care who is in a restaurant on any given day,” Dr. Mendoza said. “If people do the right thing we don’t kneed to know. It’s when people stop being cautious, and start taking the risks is when we need to know. I view this as an incentive for the businesses and it has worked. We don’t want to have to do that [public alerts]. We don’t want to call attention to people if we don’t need to.”

Community cooperation

Despite the increasing concern over the pandemic locally, the county executive and public health commissioner agree that with community cooperation, we can flatten the curve like we did earlier in the year.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Bello said. “This will pass and we’ll get through this pandemic together.”

“The pandemic is the problem and we are all fighting against it together as a community, and normal life is our goal,” Dr. Mendoza said.

“My hope is that we will want to do this because it’s how we work together as a community to understand and fight the common enemy that we have which is the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Mendoza said. “I’m hoping that we can ask of each other to do more and I wouldn’t ask to do more if it wasn’t better in the end.”

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