ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Monroe County Executive Adam Bello joined Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza Thursday for their weekly coronavirus briefing.

Slight uptick

Thursday’s Monroe County COVID-19 update is as follows:

  • 174 new cases (54,549 to date)
  • 6 new deaths (1,200 to date)
  • 119 hospitalized, 29 in ICU
  • 143 new cases per day on 7-day rolling average
  • 1.9% positivity rate on a 7-day rolling average
  • 115,028 Monroe County residents fully vaccinated
  • 233,012 Monroe County residents who’ve received at least one vaccine dose

The county executive said local positivity rates and daily new cases have plateaued since the holiday spike, but noted a slight uptick in key metrics this week.

“Our positivity rate does continue to stay below 2%, and we’re seeing a plateau, even a slight uptick in new daily cases,” Bello said. “Early in the week we were over 200 [new cases in a single day] and yesterday we were at 175. Seven-day average of new cases is up to 144 and the seven-day average positivity rate is 1.8%, compared to last week which was 1.5%.”

“The slight uptick is in part due to more testing, but the positivity rate has also gone up so this leads me to conclude we need to remain vigilant,” Dr. Mendoza said. “I do think the primary driver for this increase is that it’s spring time. People are going out more, people are enjoying company again like we used to, like we want to. I do think that there are more indoor gatherings and we are seeing this more with our contact tracing. I want to remind everybody that unless everybody in your party is fully vaccinated, which is quite rare in the under 30 crowd, we want to remind you to wear your masks.”

Despite the slight uptick, the county executive said hospitalization numbers continue to decrease.

“Fortunately hospitalizations and ICU numbers continue to decline,” Bello said. “With yesterday’s report at 128 in hospitals and 28 in ICU those are down from 139 and 39 last week in the Finger Lakes region. So again those numbers are heading in the right direction.”

The county executive said this week’s slight uptick is mostly from cases in younger people.

“It does look like it’s coming from younger residents, particularly those in their 20s, 30 and some in their 40s and 50s,” Bello said. “I want to encourage the community to continue to be smart, continue to wear your masks, and keep a good physical distance.”

“When you look back at the week of December 15, of all the COVID cases in that week, 26% of them were age 60 and older and 9% were age 5-17,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Fast forward to the most recent week, the week of March 16 and the percentage of COVID cases 60 and older is 14%. This is a sign of the vaccine. When you look at the 5-17 age group looking from the week of Dec 15 to March 16 that number has double from 9% to 18%. I think that increase in younger demographic is not related to schools, not related to sports, I think this is all a reflection of those social gatherings off the field, in our backyards, in our living room, and in our homes.”

Vaccination

As of Thursday afternoon, 115,028 Monroe County residents are fully vaccinated and 233,012 residents have received at least one dose — 31.4% of the county population.

“The county vaccine allocation this week was over 4,200 cases,” Bello said. “Appointments right now at the county operated sites are fully booked, but residents can still make appointments for the state-operated sites like the Dome Arena, and for future county appointments.”

The county executive encouraged folks to use the new Finer Lakes Vaccine Finder Tool, which shows available appointments throughout the region.

The county executive asked for residents who aren’t able to make their appointments to cancel beforehand so the time slot isn’t wasted.

“If you have made multiple appointments or are unable to make your appointment, we ask you to please contact the organization that you have the appointment with to cancel,” Bello said. “If you have an appointment that you don’t go to or you’re holding multiple appointments, it’s keeping someone else in this community from getting this life-saving vaccine.”

“People are not gobbling them [vaccine appointments] up as quickly as they were, but all the appointments are getting taken,” Dr. Mendoza said. “I think the demand is there, it’s just not peaking all on the same day because we have so many options in our community.”

Schools

For many families in the area, the prospects of reopening schools for more in-person instruction is a pressing issue.

Many local school districts are waiting for the New York State Department of Health to adopt new school guidelines from the Center for Disease Control. The CDC announced Friday changes to distancing when it comes to the classroom, from six feet to three feet. Educators say the three feet rule could allow student greater flexibility when it comes to class time.

“I know that this issue is on the minds of a lot of families and children in our community, and I also understand there’s some confusion,” Bello said. “I think there’s no question that schools provide a lot of services to our children and families and I don’t think anybody disagrees that kids are better off in school when it’s safer to do so.

“Dr. Mendoza and I sent a letter to the state asking that they update school guidance,” Bello said. “We support reopening our schools and know that it’s important for children to get to return to normalcy. While we support schools reopening, we don’t have any actual authority or guidance to make this happen. Schools are regulated by the state of New York and they report to the state of New York.

“There has been confusion around this issue, but its pretty clear under the state guidance now schools can be open with six feet of distancing without a barrier or three feet with a barrier,” Bello said. “Unfortunately we just don’t control schools fully reopening, but we will continue to advocate to the state to make that happen.”

“It all hinges on our ability to have guidance that we can act upon,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Right now the guidance hasn’t been changed since August of last year and I think this is crippling our schools, but I am hopeful and I would love to see a chance for our schools to reopen, but unfortunately we have to wait just like everybody else.”

President of the Monroe County Superintendent’s Council Kathy Graupman said some districts will have different opinions on how to approach the guidance without approval, but as the Superintendent for Greece Central School District, she says she is moving forward with reopening schools under the new guidance.

Speaking with other Monroe County superintendents regularly, Graupman says the consensus is educators want school to reopen and do so safely.

“As we look ahead to reopen schools we still have the responsibility to our students and our community to try to do everything we can,” Dr. Mendoza said. “As the vaccine ramps up and to make sure these numbers stay where they are.”

Variant strains

Earlier this week, the health commissioner confirmed cases of COVID-19 variant strains have been found in Monroe County, but said it is not a cause for concern at this time.

Dr. Mendoza said two confirmed cases of the UK strain were found from patients at URMC in February. Those two cases were discovered in a sample of 489 people, and the samples were tested at the Wadsworth Lab near Albany.

The health commissioner said he doesn’t believe the variants are the factor driving the aforementioned slight uptick.

“I do not think that the variants are the reason for this,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We know that the variants have been here since January, or earlier and we have seen our numbers improve since then.”

Lilac Festival

Lilac Festival organizers announced Wednesday dates for this year’s event, which was approved by Monroe County and New York state. The county executive said he’s hopeful that by summer, safe community events will be a possibility.

“As the numbers continue to head in the right direction and more and more people are vaccinated — the studies are showing the numbers are down and the vaccine works,” Bello said. “Outdoor activities have proven themselves to be a lot safer than indoor activities, and there is a lot of pent up demand and excitement to get back to some level of normalcy.

“I think that is important to be able to look at those outdoor activities like the Lilac Fest and find ways we can do them, and do them safely,” Bello said. “Understanding the science, I think that what the Lilac Festival is proposing to do meets the guidance. I think that it recognizes that outdoor events are safer than indoor events. We’re in a different place in our community today than November and December — so I’m looking forward to this summer, I really and I think we’re heading in the right direction.”

“We have learned so much in the last year and particularly the value of being outdoors with the environment and air circulation outdoor is so much more effective than indoor, and the value of masks,” Dr. Mendoza said. “When I actually looked at the Lilac Festival plans, the easiest part was the public health part. The plans were written very well to do everything possible to keep all the patrons and members of our community healthy. The hardest part was trying to figure out if something was a restaurant or a gathering. The organizers went the extra mile to put in detail to keep us all safe and I’m looking forward to it just like everyone else is.”

Watch the full briefing:

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