Bello, Dr. Mendoza on COVID-19: ‘We are at a tipping point in this crisis’

Coronavirus

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Monroe County Executive Adam Bello was joined by Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza for a COVID-19 briefing Monday to discuss new COVID-19 guidelines issued by New York state, as well as some more record-breaking virus numbers locally.

During a Monday coronavirus briefing in New York City, Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled the state’s five-point winter strategy for the pandemic, which focuses on:

  1. Hospitals
  2. Testing
  3. School testing
  4. Small gatherings
  5. Vaccine plan

MORE | Gov. Cuomo unveils winter COVID-19 strategy: ‘Hospital capacity is our top concern’

The new guidelines say orange zone districts need to test 20% of the school population each month, and 30% for red zone districts. Previously the guidelines called for weekly testing requirements opposed to monthly.

“We know that schools are safe, and that’s where we want our children to be,” Bello said. “The schools really have been safe — we’re working with numbers and we’re working with facts.”

Bello announced that orange zone areas — City of Rochester, plus the towns of Irondequoit, Brighton, and Gates — will begin with rapid COVID-19 testing programs, beginning this week.

“This was a true community effort to make rapid testing available community-wide, particularly as it relates to the orange zones,” Bello said.

Watch the full briefing:

Rochester

  • East High School, 1801 East Main Street, 14609
  • Saturdays, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. beginning December 5

Irondequoit

Brighton

  • Temple B’rith Kodseh, 2131 Elmwood Avenue, 14618
  • Tuesdays and Thursdays 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. beginning December 8

Gates

Bello said he hopes the supply of rapid testing kits will make this effort available through the end of the calendar year.

COVID-19 cases continue to surge locally, with more than 1,000 new cases reported Saturday and Sunday. Regional virus hospitalizations and active cases are both at all-time highs, according to the Monroe County COVID-19 dashboard.

The health commissioner said the weekend’s record would be broken again Monday.

“Today we will be reporting 541 new COVID-19 cases in our community, and 11 new deaths,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Make no mistake, this disease is real. Our case numbers, our hospitalization numbers, our ICU statistics are increasing faster than they ever have in the past. We are at a tipping point in this crisis.”

MORE | 541 new COVID-19 cases in Monroe County, 11 new deaths, 404 hospitalized

Dr. Mendoza said the numbers reported Monday do not reflect the anticipated rise due to the Thanksgiving holiday.

“The fact of the matter is the future of all this rests in our own homes,” Dr. Mendoza said. “The next few weeks and months will test the mettle of Monroe County. We have to find a way to work together and take this seriously.”

The county executive says the community can learn from what is working in schools.

“The reason schools are safe is because they are following the guidelines,” Bello said. “The children’s desks are six feet apart, the children are wearing masks, the teachers and administrators are wearing masks. The advice works.”

The county executive says the current situation is much different than earlier in the pandemic, when little was known about the virus, and it seemed like a distant nuissance.

“Earlier this year, you may not have known somebody who had it or contracted it,” Bello said. “Not it seems everyone has a story to tell. It is critically important that we have enough capacity [in the hospitals] to handle the medical issues that come up in our community.”

The health commissioner says the evidence from contact tracing continues to show that small social gatherings in private residences are problematic.

“What we are continuing to see is more of the same — gatherings that are happening in people’s homes,” Dr. Mendoza said. “The reality is, you could have a negative test today, but if you had a high-risk exposure yesterday and an infection today, the test might not come back positive. The reality is that none of these tests, when they come back negative, should be viewed as a certainty.”

The health commissioner said he expects Thanksgiving holiday numbers to show up later this week or this weekend.

MORE | Gov. Cuomo: ‘You will see a tremendous spike in COVID-19 after Thanksgiving’

With 11 new COVID-19 deaths reported Monday in Monroe County, the health commissioner says there is a direct correlation between more cases leading to more hospitalizations and deaths.

“This is a pattern that has played out across our country: Spikes in cases have resulted in spikes in hospitalizations,” Dr. Mendoza said.

Regarding nursing homes, the health commissioner said long term health care facilities are not immune to the aforementioned correlation.

“We know that even with the best of precautions, sometimes people make mistakes, in break rooms our outside of work,” Dr. Mendoza said. “The more the risk of contracting the infection is in the community, the higher the chance that staff members will fall victim.”

Regarding economic support for businesses forced to close, the county executive says the local government is limited in funding at this time.

“We really need help from our federal partners into the new year to support these businesses,” Bello said. “I am concerned this is going to have a long term economic impact on our community if we don’t get additional support from Washington.”

The health commissioner said that many of the problematic social gatherings are happening in the suburbs.

“We’re only diagnosing what we’re testing, so we have to make sure we’re increasing capacity for testing,” Dr. Mendoza said. ” The vast majority of additional cases are happening in the suburbs. The conclusion we’re drawing is that a lot of these gatherings are happening in the suburbs.”

MORE | Coronavirus Town Hall: Your questions for County Executive Bello, Dr. Mendoza and Rep. Morelle

“I know this isn’t easy — I’m a parent myself,” Bello said as the briefing concluded. “I see firsthand how challenging this can be, particularly when the guidance changes. The future is all in our hands. What the numbers look like two weeks from now, three weeks from now, four weeks from now — it’s entirely relatable to what we do today. We have to go back to what we were doing in March and April, because it worked.”

Bello and Dr. Mendoza will join Rep. Joe Morelle Tuesday for a coronavirus town hall on News 8. you can send us your coronavirus questions for these local leaders to newsroom@wroctv.com, through Facebook, through Twitter, or through our website’s Report It! page.

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

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