ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza held their weekly coronavirus briefing Thursday.
Over the past week, Monroe County has seen a slow, but steady increase in average COVID-19 positivity and regional hospitalization rates. The health commissioner says the new cases are primarily from people under 30 years old.
“We know the vaccine is working,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We are seeing fewer deaths, especially among older adults and the number of new cases of people 60 or older has dropped significantly. In December and January, people aged 60 and older accounted for over 25% of new cases and today they represent 13% of all new cases.
“When comparing the first three weeks of March to the first three weeks of October last year — the rate of increase in new cases among people 0 to 59 was two and a half times greater this past March than it was in October,” Dr. Mendoza said. “I want to call special attention to people younger than 30 — the group that represents 42% of all new cases. We are seeing the greatest increases in people of age 5 to 17, now 18% of all new cases, up from 8% in late December. And the 18-29 age group represent the highest age decade of all decades with new cases at almost 25% of all new cases.”
The health commissioner the current rise in COVID-19 metrics is similar to the rise last October before the holiday surge — where the Finger Lakes region had the highest positivity and hospitalization rates in New York state.
“It was shortly after we saw increases like this last fall that we began to see an increase in numbers dramatically leading to our winter surge and the Finger Lakes region having the highest positivity rate in the state,” Dr. Mendoza said. “At this point this is a race between the vaccine and the variants. Today we’re reporting more than 200 new cases. We all may be over the pandemic, but clearly the pandemic is not over us.”
Vaccine equity effort
Joining the county executive and the health commissioner on the briefing was Dr. Daniele Lyman-Torres, Commissioner of the City of Rochester’s Department of Recreation and Human Services, who helped a new community-wide partnership to make the vaccination process more equitable by bringing clinics to city neighborhoods on a regular basis.
“Starting next Thursday, we will be bringing vaccine clinics to all four quadrants of the City of Rochester on a recurring basis,” Bello said.
- Thursdays: Baber A.M.E. Church
- Fridays: Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church
- Saturdays: Trenton and Pamela Jackson R-Center
- Sundays: Edgerton R-Center
“We’re at that point now where we can really get into neighborhoods and specifically target zip codes that are running behind the average and bring them up to where the county average is,” Bello said.
Bello said appointments at these clinics will be available for residents of specific zip codes in the City of Rochester.
“At the end of this pandemic we must be able to say confidently that we did everything within our power to be sure everyone in our community has equal access to getting this life saving vaccine,” Bello said. “Today is a critical step to doing just that.”
“It is important to us to make sure the people who can’t access the internet to make appointments and have the ability to get support to do that — we will do that,” Dr. Lyman-Torres said. “We really just want people to know that this is going to be a very easy way for them to get the vaccine and we’re grateful for everyone’s efforts, but we have to continue the education we have to continue the outreach and understand our circle.”
“No one person can solve all the different challenges of problems that we face,” Bello said. “It really takes collaboration and different partners, so that’s what makes me so proud of this effort.”
The health commissioner expressed optimism about Pfizer pediatric vaccine trials that have shown efficacy for children in the 12-15 age group, but until they are approved, distributed, and administered, he says it’s important to be safe.
“There is some promising news on the horizon that the Pfizer vaccine may be available in the coming months [for children], but until then we cannot wait until the vaccine — we need to be very, very careful about those gatherings,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We’re hearing more from our contact tracing of sleepovers and informal gatherings indoors. The story is really the same as last year.
“While we wait for the vaccine for kids, I call on our parents to be very thoughtful on the gatherings we allow our children to engage in,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We simply ask all parents to think about the wellbeing of their children and make the best decision for them and for the community.”
A batch of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine failed quality standards Thursday and they can’t be used, but health officials say they couldn’t comment on what that could mean going forward for supply.
“This is a major setback for the company, but the J&J that we received today was not effected by this, but our worry at the heal department level is it will hurt our supply,” Bello said.
“The J&J is actually much higher priority for incarcerated population, where we don’t know where they’re going to be in three or four weeks,” Dr. Mendoza said. “People who are leaving the hospital, discharged from the hospital, where it’s hard to bring them back to the same site. There are populations where we want to prioritize the J&J. I understand everybody wants it — it’s one dose, it’s more convenient, but we still are at a point where the demand for J&J far outweighs supply, so we still need to allocate it where it makes the most sense.”
Aside from the failed J&J batch, the public health commissioner said he was optimistic about the incoming availability of vaccine doses.
“For the first time this week we’ve been giving a guarantee from the state that we’ll have a certain base allocation going forward for the next three weeks,” Dr. Mendoza said. “I think those are signs of a stable supply so things are going in the right direction — I’m optimistic.”
The health commissioner said he’d prefer if New York State Department of Health would adopt new CDC guidelines regarding social distancing in schools, which would reduce distancing in classrooms from six feet to three feet.
“The current New York state guidance is no longer in sync with best available evidence and it would be really great if the state health department would issue an update on where the guidance for schools would be and then our school districts would have a choice,” Dr. Mendoza said.
Watch the full press briefing
This is a developing story. News 8 WROC will provide updates as they become available.