ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza will be providing an update on COVID-19 in Monroe County on Thursday.
Trending in the right direction
In Wednesday’s update from Monroe County, health officials reported a seven-day rolling average positivity rate of 4.6%, the lowest since November 27 (4.5%). Officials also reported the lowest level of hospitalizations from the virus since December 13 — 662 people in the Finger Lakes region.
The health commissioner said those numbers continue to trend in the right direction.
“Our numbers are heading in the right direction,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Our positivity rate, as of today, is now down to 4.45% — we haven’t seen that rate since November. We will be reporting 318 new cases today and overall that is a reduction.”
The health commissioner said the county would also be reporting 35 new COVID-19 deaths Thursday, adding that the deaths occurred between January 8 and January 24. While the situation improves, the county executive said it’s important to maintain the safety efforts which helped flatten the holiday spike.
“While the numbers are heading in the right direction and that valve is being opening and restrictions are being loosened, we still nee the make sure that we’re following the guidelines and keeping the numbers heading in the right direction,” Bello said.
The local officials said hospitalization numbers in the region are still high, but due to being a lagging indicator, they expect them to trend down with the positivity rate in the coming weeks.
“The hospitalization rate is high and they’re still too high and they are lagging indicators,” Bello said. “The hospitalization numbers are starting to come back down though, it’s just a little bit behind.”
Due to drops in positivity rate across the state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday said COVID-19 orange and yellow zones are lifted for everywhere in New York state, except a few downstate areas.
“As we all saw yesterday Gov. Cuomo announced the lifting of the orange and yellow zone designations across the state,” Bello said. “That includes the zones in Monroe County, and the decision is reflective of where we are now. We’re really still not out of the woods yet by any means, but it’s a demonstration that our numbers are coming down that the community is operating together.”
Most of Monroe County had been under yellow zone restrictions since last fall, while parts of Rochester, Irondequoit, Gates, and Brighton were under orange zone rules since late November. Since then, the state had made little changes to the zone policies through Wednesday when restrictions were lifted.
While zone restrictions were lifted, some COVID-19 policies remain in place regardless of the micro-cluster rules, including:
- Retail & personal care: 50% capacity
- Gyms and fitness centers: 33% capacity
- Gatherings: Residential limit 10 people, non-residential limit 50 people
- Restaurants outside of NYC: 50% capacity, 10 people maximum per table, 10 p.m. close for on-premises consumption
- Social distancing and masks required, all businesses must comply with DOH/NYForward guidance
“These new set of rules, I think, this is a good thing that the zones have been lifted because it puts us all operating under one set of rules, so it eliminates some of the confusion,” Bello said. “The elimination doesn’t mean that were all moving around as if none of this has happened before were still in the middle of pandemic.”
As of Wednesday, the governor’s office said the Finger Lakes region had administered 96,437 COVID-19 doses, good for 82% of the 118,250 doses allocated to the region so far. The county executive said the distribution and administration operation has been doing well, but he says supply remains the most prominent concern in the effort.
“We started vaccinations at the convention center last week, for those who are eligible with appointments,. and we continue to vaccinate people at the fleet center as well,” Bello said. “Both of those locations are appointment only, for those in Phase 1a and 1b. We can’t control how much supply there is, but what we can control is our ability to put it into arms. We set a goal to make sure that every week the amount of supply we receive, we can administer week-to-week so that we don’t build up a supply here. We have met that goal.”
In the meantime, the county executive said patience and diligence is key until supply ramps up.
“I know there’s still a lot of anxiety about when people will be able to get the vaccine and unfortunately we don’t have all the vaccine that we would like to have and we don’t have all the answers,” Bello said. “What we will do is, we will continue to make appointments as that vaccine becomes available. Right now we’re in a situation where there are a lot of people in our county, and region, and state who are eligible to receive the vaccine, but there just isn’t the availability.”
Earlier this week, Republicans in the Monroe County Legislator called for county control of the distribution of the vaccine, but the county executive said it simply doesn’t work that way.
“The federal government increases supply, working with the manufacturer of the vaccine,” The fed government then distributes them, by whatever formula they use, down to each state, which pushes it down to localities and to put into people’s arms. And that’s what we’re doing. The counties do not have the ability to manufacture the vaccine, that’s done at a national level.”
On Friday, New York state also updated its COVID-19 guidelines to let local county health departments determine if higher-risk youth sports can be played, effective February 1, 2021. Bello and Dr. Mendoza later signed off on the idea and those sports can begin playing on Monday.
“I am generally very supportive of high school and higher risk sports continuing here in Monroe County,” Dr. Mendoza said. “I’m supportive because, I believe currently, we have no evidence of the new strains of the COVID virus here. I’m confident in the schools and ability to implement rules and state guidelines. In order for us to continue to enjoy higher risk sports for our athletes, we all need to do our part because the best way to keep COVID out of our sports activities is to keep the level of COVID, in general in our community, low.”
The health commissioner said the science indicates that sports are safe, but gatherings before and after these events post a risk.
“The vast majority of the transmission we’ve seen has not been on the court or on the ice, but have been in those gatherings after the fact,” Dr. Mendoza said.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James released a report Thursday that said the New York State Department of Health has not been counting the number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes accurately.
“Ever since the beginning of this pandemic we, for better or worse, have had a supporting role in the nursing home efforts,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We are there to provide PPE, provide guidance, do contact tracing for employees within the nursing homes, but the facilities themselves are working with the federal government.
“I care very much about our nursing home population,” Dr. Mendoza said. “I’m very eager to get them open when it’s safe, but it’s certainly very concerning and I’d like to know more about the process. They want, just like everybody else, to ensure the safety of our loved ones who are hospitalized.”
With the public focus shifting towards vaccine, the county executive says it’s important to remember that COVID-19 testing resources still exist and should be utilized for county residents.
“The county is continuing with its testing locations and rapid testing efforts,” Bello said. “The link for next week’s testing sites will go live tomorrow at noon. We have seen a reduction in the number of appointments that are coming in at some of those locations. We need to keep up that testing level to make sure were finding these positive cases and get people quarantined. If you don’t make an appt and would like to come in, come in to the site. They work hard to get to everybody, appointment or not.”
This is a developing story. News 8 WROC will provide updates as they become available.
Watch the full press briefing: