Bello, Dr. Mendoza: COVID-19 situation improving as vaccine supply remains low

Coronavirus

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

Helicopter crash

The county executive began by discussing Wednesday night’s triple fatal military helicopter crash in Mendon.

“Last night, our community, our state, and our nation endured yet another tragedy,” Bello said. “The Army National Guard is critical to the safety of our nation and last night we lost three Guard members. I’m asking that we all please remember their service and sacrifice, lend a hand in support of their families, and keep their friends and loved ones in our thoughts an prayers.”

In the face of tragedy, the county executive expressed gratitude to the first responders.

“It was really incredible to see Monroe County’s bravest and finest all working together hand and hand,” Bello said.

Vaccination

On Monday, Dr. Mendoza and Bello announced the county is no longer scheduling COVID-19 vaccine appointments for the time being, due to limited supply. The county executive said Monroe County is expecting a shipment of about 1,500 doses of the vaccine this week.

The Dome Arena, a vaccination site run by state government, opened this week for vaccinations, in addition to the Rochester Riverside Convention Center, a county-run vaccination site. While supply remains limited, the county executive said the focus is to have the infrastructure in place for mass vaccination efforts once the supply ramps up.

“We had set a goal a couple weeks ago that we wanted to make sure that at all times Monroe County as a government, and Monroe County Department of Health, was always in a position that our ability and capacity to administer the vaccine outpaced the avail vaccine that was coming into our community. That way we can get it into people’s arms as quickly as possible.”

MORE | Here’s who is eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccine and where to get it

“As we learned throughout the pandemic, as you tackle one barrier it is certain there will be more to come,” Dr. Mendoza said. “And of course we don’t have enough vaccine yet so I’m asking for your flexibility and patience. There are many, many people working behind the scenes, many who are volunteers and they are getting the job done.”

There are currently three eligible groups for the vaccine:

  • 1a — Health care workers
  • 1b — Police officers, firefighters, teachers, public safety workers, grocery store workers, child care employees, and in-person college instructors
  • 1c — 65-years-old and older

In addition to sites run by local and state governments, the University of Rochester Medical Center and Rochester Regional Health are also calling their patients who are eligible and scheduling appointments for them as vaccines become available.

Above all, officials express the need for patience as the supply of the vaccine remains low.

“The end game here really isn’t a personal or individual thing either,” Bello said. “‘I get my vax and we’re through this.’ We have to get to the point where we have heard immunity, which is the much larger number. It’s frustrating and there is really no good answer. The vaccine was really just made available — believe it or not it’s only been a month after a very tough year, and we just have to have patience.”

Regarding skepticism, the health commissioner said it’s important to spread the message that the vaccine is safe and effective.

“I do think that when you look at the science you probably ought to be a little more forceful in our messaging that the vaccine work and the vaccine is safe,” Dr. Mendoza said.

The health commissioner said for those who have received their first dose of the vaccine, that they should receive the second dose at the same location once available.

“If you’ve gotten your first dose, we’ve gotten every assurance from the state that your second dose will arrive with appropriate time at the same location of the first,” Dr. Mendoza said.

Cautious optimism

The county executive said coronavirus rates in Monroe County remain high, but a steady decline in positivity rate has given officials some cautious optimism about where the community is heading.

“We always talk about looking at things not as day-to-day numbers, but we look at trends,” Bello said. “Yesterday’s seven-day average for new positive cases per day was 434, that’s the lowest seven-day average that we’ve had in two months. Yesterday’s new case total of 363 and Tuesday’s total of 308 were the lowest numbers we reported since we did 314 on November 21. So what we’ve seen is the numbers go up over the last two months and over the last week or two, we’re coming down on the other side of that curve.”

That’s the optimism. The cautious sentiment derives from hospitalization rates that remain among the highest in the state. However, the county executive said that’s because virus hospitalizations are a lagging indicator.

“Hospital numbers, however, are still high bc hospitalizations are a lagging indicator,” Bello said. “It’s a slower come-down because it’s a lagging indicator of what those new cases are. It’s optimism because we’re not at that peak that we were just a few weeks ago. You can clearly see we’re starting to come back down on the other side of the curve, but we’re cautious because of our perspective here. If we had the numbers today back then, we would have been very concerned.”

“Since the beginning of this pandemic I’ve said there isn’t a single number that tells me the whole story,” Dr. Mendoza said. “So it is encouraging when a number goes in the right direction, but it’s even more encouraging when multiple figures are trending in the right directions. All of these are beginning to tell a consistent narrative and that’s why I feel more confident that we can be cautiously optimistic at this point.”

This is a developing story. News 8 WROC will provide updates as they become available.

Watch the full press briefing:

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