ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza gave an update on the pandemic during their weekly coronavirus briefing Thursday.
Officials from the Monroe County Department of Public Health confirmed 575 new COVID-19 cases Thursday. The is now averaging 601 new cases per day over the past week and the seven-day rolling average positivity rate is now 8.1%, the lowest number reported since December 27, 2020.
Officials also reported 43 new COVID-19 deaths for Monroe County. The update brought the county’s to-date death total to 766. Officials say these deaths occurred between January 3 and January 10.
Health officials say 830 people in the Finger Lakes region are hospitalized with the virus, including 150 who are being treated in an ICU.
According to the health department, the region has 32% available hospital capacity, and 24% available ICU capacity.
According to the state’s surge and flex plan, if a region’s available hospital capacity trends to 10 percent, it would initiate a red zone designation which would effectively shut down all non-essential businesses.
“We are still in the middle of a pandemic and while there are signs of improvement — I think there is reason to be cautiously optimistic — we also have to remember we are not out of the woods,” Dr. Mendoza said. “At the same time, we still need to be mindful that this pandemic has not gotten that much better. When we look at the cases, some days look better some days look not as good.”
With the upcoming Buffalo Bills playoff game this weekend, the health commissioner said it’s more important than ever to be safe.
“Many of us will be watching football games and wanting to gather with our friends and families, and I caution you to use restraint,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We know that in-home gatherings continue to be the cause of spread of COVID-19. The way we protect each other, and ourselves, and our circle, is to wear a masks and be mindful of our gatherings.”
The county executive reiterated his message from Wednesday, saying the COVID-19 vaccination eligibility far exceeds the current supply, and he asked for patience from the community.
“Just yesterday we preached patience to the community and asked everyone please remain patient as the eligibility and availability of the vaccination continues to grow and change in our community,” Bello said. “We do not control the supply or the availability. That is managed by the federal government and the manufacturers, but what we can control here locally is our efforts. We don’t know week-to-week what the vaccine availability will be her. We know who is eligible, but we don’t know the supply.”
Currently, New York state is progressing through Phase 1a and Phase 1b of the vaccination plan which includes health care workers, nursing home resident and staff, residents 65-years-old or older, residents with pre-existing conditions, and essential workers like educators, firefighters, police, grocery store employees, child care workers, and in-person college instructors.
The current pool of New Yorkers eligible to receive the vaccine is approximately seven million people, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. With New York state currently receiving approximately 300,000 doses per week, distributed proportionately by regional population, officials estimate it will take about 14 weeks to complete Phase 1a and Phase 1B.
In the meantime, the county executive said the regional vaccine hub is working to adapt and expand local vaccination sites, so when supply reaches scale, it will be easily administered.
“Monroe county will be setting up an additional point of distribution for the vaccine at the Rochester Convention Center,” Bello said. “I think the Convention Center is an ideal location, has an abundant amount of space; its central location and is walking distance from the RTS. This pod site will initially be able to help us increase our capacity by 700 vaccinations per day to start and that’s just on one shipment, and can be expanded from there. The convention center will be available no later than Monday, next week, and will be operational.”
The health commissioner said vaccination continues at the county health department facility, where supply remains the most pressing issue of the present.
“We’re continuing our operations at 111 Westfall road, and we also have the operation at the Fleet Center (145 Paul Road),” Dr. Mendoza said. “All of this is dependent on the vaccine, and we do not yet have confirmation of any of the shipments that are coming next week. So our job is to be prepared. At the end of the day we have a large task ahead of us.”
With demand outpacing supply, the health commissioner says it’s important to follow the state guidelines in regards to vaccination phases.
“When you’re looking at a situation where demand outpaces the supply by a good margin, there is an honor system,” Dr. Mendoza said. “What I can say that 1a is a higher priority than 1b.”
After a State Supreme Court ruling out of Erie County Wednesday on indoor dining, New York state decided to temporarily alter its current COVID-19 restrictions for orange zone restaurants. Effective Thursday, all orange zone restaurants statewide can operate under current yellow zone rules.
Yellow zone rules for indoor dining requires 50% capacity, six feet between tables, all staff to wear masks, and customers to wear masks while not seated. Other rules include four people maximum per table, and all bars and restaurants are to close at 10 p.m. Previous rules forced all orange zone restaurants to only operate for takeout and delivery services.
“The state’s decision to allow restaurants operating in orange zone to operate with yellow zone guidance is the right thing to do,” Bello said. “It helps with the issues of equity and fairness. I am confident in our restaurant owners, I have met with dozens of folks who own restaurants and work in restaurants and I am confident in their ability to manage the spread and make sure we keep it safe, and make sure they’re operating within the states guidelines.”
Asking the community for help
Acknowledging the undertaking the vaccination process is, while recognizing the current need for hospital staffing, the county executive said the community is seeking volunteers for help.
“We’re still looking for registered nurses here in the county,” Bello said. “We have a critical need for nurses to be able to help us administer those vaccines.”
The county executive said Monroe County is patterning with the United Way of Greater Rochester to open a volunteer portal for organized assistance from interested community members.
“In addition to hiring staff, we’ve had a great partnership with United Way of Greater Rochester, and this really goes back to the beginning of the pandemic in our community, and the pulling together people of every sector in the county, and really in the region, to make sure volunteers have a place to go,” Bello said. “A portal to go to and make sure it’s all coordinated to give us the biggest bang for our buck.”
“Today we are calling on those who are able, who want to be part of a solution, to be part of the largest health response of the generation,” said Jamie Saunders, President and CEO of United Way of Greater Rochester. “We need to build a strong and ready vaccine volunteer force that is ready to serve as more vaccine arrives.”
Saunders said the United Way is looking to fill 150 non-clinical general volunteer slots, for which there are currently openings available.
“We are asking for anyone who is willing and able to sign up now to begin the review and approval process,” Saunders said. “Right now we need people to raise their hand if they are interested and apply now to join the vaccine force.”
Saunders said volunteers will do things like registration, data entry, greeters, distributing PPE and hand sanitizers and more. She also stressed the need for volunteers who are multilingual are fluent in signing.
“If you want to help, there will be a place and a role for you,” Saunders said. “Apply today and over the next few weeks, once approved, you will be able to sign up to the shifts and locations that work for you. Government and health care cannot do this alone. This community crisis requires a community response. This will take all of us.”
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.
Watch the full press briefing: