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

Coronavirus

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza held a virtual briefing Monday to address the COVID-19 yellow zone in Monroe County.

“It is clear we are experiencing community spread throughout Monroe County,” Bello said. “It’s not targeted to one neighborhood or zip code, but it’s related to gatherings of people not in the same family, not wearing masks.”

During a press conference on Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said portions of Monroe County met the criteria to be determined a yellow zone microcluster, which triggered certain restrictions for residents and impacted areas.

“Yellow zones have certain restrictions,” Gov. Cuomo said. “25 person max for gatherings, four people at a table for dining, schools get 25% testing, bars and restaurants close at midnight.”

“The last thing we want to see is cases continuing to go up — I want to avoid a shutdown and I think all of us do,” Bello said. “What was announced today I think are reasonable steps to help us get there and avoid the shutdowns that we saw earlier this year.”

The county executive said yellow zone restrictions will be in effect for municipalities, not zip codes. The impacted areas are:

  • City of Rochester
  • Irondequoit
  • Greece
  • Webster
  • Penfield
  • Perinton
  • East Rochester
  • Pittsford
  • Brighton
  • Henrietta
  • Chili
  • Gates

Certain restrictions apply for yellow zones, including:

  • Houses of Worship: 50% capacity
  • Mass Gatherings: 25 people maximum, indoor and outdoor
  • Businesses: Open
  • Dining: Indoor and outdoor dining, four person maximum per table
  • Schools: Open with mandatory weekly testing of students and teachers/staff for in-person settings The New York State Department of Health will establish a percentage of teachers and students/staff who need to be tested by Friday

Full briefing with Bello, Dr. Mendoza

As far as when the yellow zone restrictions go into effect, the county executive said he hasn’t seen an order yet, but he said residents should prepare for them to be activated soon.

“In terms of when the order is effective, I have not seen the order yet,” Bello said. “It will be effective once it’s signed so I assume that will be any time now. The Monroe County Department of Health has been enforcing orders right from the beginning back in March in terms of the shutdown and reopening, but we will be doubling our efforts and ask for the publics help. Our COVID hotline is still open. You can contact us at 585-753-5555 or through email at COVID19@monroecounty.gov.”

With 467 new COVID-19 cases confirmed over the weekend, the health commissioner is warning of a slippery slope, saying that the community is heading in the wrong direction.

“Nearly 30% of those new cases are in the 20-29 age group,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Our seven-day rolling average for a positivity rate is now 3.4% and that earns us the classification of being in the yellow zone. I am optimistic that we can do this, but we need to change our course. Quite frankly, I’m worried about where this is headed.”

The health commissioner said that the yellow zone is here, but if things don’t change, the restrictions will tighten.

“We’re in the yellow zone, but the orange zone is not that far way,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Now is the time to buckle down as a community and get this done.”

For elevating to the orange zone, the City of Rochester and Monroe County have slightly different criteria based on population density. To qualify for the orange zone designation, the City of Rochester would have to meet the following benchmarks:

  • Geographic area has 7-day rolling average positivity above 3% for 10 days AND
  • Geographic area has 10 or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents on 7-day average

To qualify for orange zone designation, Monroe County would have to meet the following benchmarks:

  • Geographic area has 7-day rolling average positivity above 4% for 10 days AND
  • Geographic area has 12 or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents on 7-day average

Dr. Mendoza said it’s mathematically possible for Monroe County to shed the yellow zone designation by the end of the week, but added that it would take tremendous community cooperation to do so.

The health commissioner also said Halloween was a problem and he is concerned about upcoming holidays that make viral spread an increased risk.

“Halloween was a problem, a lot of the positive cases we are now encountering are traceable,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Obviously that gives me great pause as we look ahead to Thanksgiving, which is much more social. We are now just over two weeks away from Thanksgiving. Now is the time we buckle down and do everything we can — and that may make us rethink our Thanksgiving plans.

“Now is the time to look ahead,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We will threaten the holidays over the December months if we do not get this together before Thanksgiving.”

Still, the health commissioner says the risk at schools remains low, but the community spread outside of schools can impact in-person instruction down the line.

“I said it before and I’ll say it again, our schools remain the safest place, but sadly they have the most to lose if we don’t get it together,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We now have a curve that we must flatten once again.”

The health commissioner said the state would be assisting in accelerated testing for school districts.

“15,000 tests total that we need to do per week,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We have been, as you know, in very close conversation with our school superintendents.”

The health commissioner said the the state’s assistance in accelerated testing for schools includes a less invasive test that doesn’t go all the way to the back of the throat. He said the health department is available to address any concerns parents may have about testing protocol.

The advice from leaders remains what it has been throughout the pandemic.

“It’s a very easy and selfless thing to put a mask on,” Bello said.

Bello and Dr. Mendoza stressed that masks, social distancing and basic precautions helped make Monroe County one of the best communities in the country and fighting the virus, and resuming those everyday practices will help flatten the rising curve.

Officials say the main source of the spread is small, private gatherings where these precautions are being ignored.

“The reality is the smoking gun is not our restaurants, it is not our businesses,” Dr. Mendoza said. “The smoking gun is beneath our nose, in our basements, and backyards, and homes.”

The county executive said he hopes the yellow zone designation will remind residents of how serious, and ongoing, the pandemic situation remains.

“It’s a wake up call for the community, it really is,” Bello said. “This is what the spread looks like, this is how it happens.”

According to the New York State Department of Health’s website:

Precautionary/Buffer: A ‘Yellow Zone’ area either is put in place as a broader buffer area to ensure COVID outbreak is not spreading into the broader community (“Yellow Buffer Zone”) OR is implemented independently based on the below metrics (“Yellow Precautionary Zone”). The purpose of a Yellow Buffer Zone is to 1) restrict some activity to help prevent further spread from Red and/or Orange Warning Zone area; 2) provide a larger defined geographic area where metrics can be monitored daily to ensure COVID is not spreading beyond the Red Zone or Orange Warning Zone.”

MORE | Gov. Cuomo on rising COVID-19 cases: ‘Serious caution flag’ in Rochester, Finger Lakes

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

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