ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza held their weekly coronavirus briefing Thursday.
The county officials were joined by the co-chairs of the Finger Lakes vaccine task force, Dr. Nancy Bennett of University of Rochester Medical Center and Wade Norwood, CEO of Common Ground Health.
- Appointments no longer needed for eligible residents to get the COVID vaccine at Monroe County-run sites
- Recent surge in local COVID rates starting to plateau
- “Nowhere near” herd immunity in Monroe County
- Youth ice hockey remains suspended in Monroe County after outbreak earlier this month
Bello joined the briefing virtually from home as he is currently under quarantine after recently coming in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
The county executive said Monroe County’s COVID-19 rates have plateaued over the past week after a recent surge, but he said they are still higher than where they were a few weeks ago.
“Over the last seven days, we started to plateau, or at least not surging,” Bello said. “However we are still seeing far too many cases among our younger age demographics. From yesterday’s COVID-19 report we had 35 cases of resident 9-years-old or younger, 41 cases of residents 10 to 19, 47 cases of people in their 20s and 46 cases of residents in their 30s. This has been a trend for the last several weeks.”
As more younger people are being infected, less older people are — attributed to earlier vaccine eligibility for more advanced age demographics. Overall, this has led to a steady average positivity rate.
“Our local positivity rate has held steady of the last several weeks,” Bello said. “Yesterday’s reported seven-day average positivity rate was 3.2%. Just last week it was 3.1%, so it’s still well above where we were in the middle of March. Yesterday our seven day average of new cases per day was 242, which is slightly lower than last week’s 258, but a month ago today, our average was 111.”
In the governor’s COVID-19 briefing, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Wednesday that beginning Friday, New Yorkers over the age of 60 years old no longer need vaccine appointments to get their COVID-19 shots at state run mass vaccination sites. Locally, that includes the sites at Kodak-Hawkeye Parking Lot and the Rochester Dome Arena.
The county executive is taking that effort one step further at the local level, by no longer requiring appointments for vaccines at county-run sites.
“To help make receiving a vaccine that much easier, as of today appointments will no longer be required at any of the Monroe County vaccination centers for any individual who’s eligible to be vaccinated in New York state,” Bello said. “This includes not only the Rochester Riverside Convention Center, and the county’s Fleet Center, but it also includes all of our community based clinics and pop-up clinics sponsored by Monroe County.”
Bello reiterated the importance of county residents getting vaccinated, and he said there is now more supply than demand.
“There’s a very simple way to fight this and a very simple way to bring our numbers down — we need to vaccinate,” Bello said. “We have an abundance of vaccine now. We’re just at that point where the supply and demand are about to switch. What a difference a month makes. It was just last month that there was just this talk of almost a Hunger Games style race to get vaccine appointments, where they were gone online with minutes of them posted. That’s jut not the case anymore.”
The county executive said there are currently a number of available vaccine locations in Monroe County and throughout the Finger Lakes region. He added that vaccine appointments can also be made over the phone to help bridge the digital divide in the community.
“Please call 585-753-5555 and we can schedule your appointment right over the phone so you no longer need to go online,” Bello said.
The county executive said getting vaccinated is the best way to end this pandemic, and have a good summer.
“As we start to think about all the great things we want to do this summer, now is the time to be thinking about that,” Bello said. “We want to go to Rochester Red Wings games, we want to get back to festivals, high school graduations, college graduation ceremonies: this is the easiest way to do it, to get vaccinated now. Then you don’t have to wonder if there’s going to be a test available if you want to go do these things this summer — you know your vaccine you know your safe and you can participate.”
The county executive said the responsibility is on everyone to help spread the message: The vaccine is safe and effective.
“Now is the time to step up and engage with our constituents, engage with our communities, and talk about the benefits of being vaccinated,” Bello said. “If you want to get involved, we want you to be involved, we want you to be ambassadors to the community, ambassadors to the public.”
“Of the tens of thousands of Monroe County residents who have received the vaccine, no one has received severe illness or death,” Dr. Mendoza said. “If is safe, it is effective, it is free, and it is easier than ever to get your vaccine at sites all across the county.”
The health commissioner says it’s important for people in the community to have conversations with their friends, family members, and neighbors because personal experiences mean more than facts and figures.
“Most people don’t make up their mind based on numbers,” Dr. Mendoza said. “I think most people make up their minds based on stories, and that’s why it’s so important, especially now that we engage in those conversations, that we start to tell those stories to one another. I think it’s one thing for a physician or scientist to say something, but I think it’s more meaningful to have that conversation around the dinner table, the fire pit, in the backyard. These are the kind of conversations we have to start entering into because we’re not going to get to the end goal simply by spouting facts and figures.”
“At the heart of vaccine hesitancy and at the heart of vaccine system navigation is information,” Norwood said. “The fact that many people have questions, and many people need help. It’s good to ask questions, and even better for us to connect people who have questions with medical experts and with the answers that can hep people shape their own personal decisions.”
“We have developed a took kit which is now available on Finger Lakes Hub website and this tool kit will enable anyone to talk to friends, family, constituents — whoever they wish to speak to about the value of this vaccine,” Dr. Bennett said.
The health commissioner said Monroe County still has a long way to go to reach herd immunity.
“We are nowhere near the herd immunity,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We need at least 70% of every eligible age group to get this vaccine, not just our adults, so please, if you still have not yet received your vaccine, do that today. The sooner we reach that 70% mark, the sooner all of this can become a memory.”
As of Wednesday’s update on the Monroe County COVID-19 dashboard, 247,347 residents have been fully vaccinated, and 344,684 have received at least one dose — 46% of the county population.
On Wednesday, Bello announced that Frontier Field will host a pop-up COVID-19 vaccine clinic on Saturday, April 24 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Youth Ice Hockey
Youth ice hockey has been suspended in Monroe County since a COVID outbreak at a tournament earlier this month, and the health commissioner say it’s not yet safe to resume youth ice hockey activities.
“It’s very clear that competitive ice hockey and/or behaviors associated with the sport have put players, coaches, and family members at higher risk of COVID-19 than any other sport,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Since we took back support for competitive play about two and a half weeks ago we have seen another 50 positive cases associated with ice hockey. Since that tournament at Bill Gray’s Iceplex, 70 positive cases in Monroe County have been directly traced to that event.”
The health commissioner said current COVID rates will make it difficult to reopen schools for more in-person instruction for 6-12 students.
New York state guidance recommends physical distancing requirements dependent on grade level, with a minimum of 3 feet for elementary school students. Middle and high schools may shift from the 6-foot requirement to the new 3-foot requirement, depending on cohort sizes in the schools and rates of infection on the county level.
“The trend currently is not looking terribly good to get that rate down such that the schools will be open in the 6-12 grades,” Dr. Mendoza said. “I’m really more concerned about making sure that young students, young adults understand that their actions are impacting the community. You may not get sick, your friends may not get sick, but when we take this all as a collective, it’s pulling our numbers in the wrong direction and it’s making it difficult, if not impossible, for our schools to follow the guidelines and reopen fully.”
Watch the full press briefing
This is a developing story. News 8 WROC will provide updates as they become available.