ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza hosted a COVID-19 briefing Thursday to update residents on the county’s ongoing coronavirus response efforts.
The county executive reported 169 new COVID-19 cases locally and seven day average of 142 new cases per day, down from last Thursday’s 192 new cases and an average of 170. The county executive expressed a cautious optimism.
“It would appear that our numbers have plateaued, but we are also heading into an uncertain time with our numbers going up and down with pretty dramatic shifts, particularly with the holidays over the past couple of days” Bello said. “So our area is still designated as high COVID transmission, according to the CDC, and we really need to act accordingly, and give it a few more days to see what the impact the holiday was before we can really characterize it.”
The health commissioner said end-summer events, like weddings and family gatherings, have led to an increase of new cases, but he said that if the cases are connected to these events, it’s less concerning than unexplained community transmission.
“The story of new cases is usually the same: They were traveling to another part of the country, they had gone to camp, weddings and other family events — which were very common over the past several weeks,” Dr. Mendoza said. “So we’re going to be seeing the after effects of those events for probably another week, but it would not be surprising to me if the numbers do not go down as we are all hoping that they will.
“As long as we can find an explanation for these cases — which is why it’s so important for the public to collaborate with us as we do our contact tracing — if we’re not able to find the source, then I will start raising the flag and wonder why we have more widespread transmission,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Just seeing numbers go up, although concerning, if we have a story for why those numbers are increasing it’s more reassuring. Right now we have to realize that a lot of these end-of-summer events is what leads to the numbers of today.”
According to the New York State Department of Health, 179 people in the Finger Lakes region were hospitalized with the virus, and 48 are in the ICU. The county executive said the vast majority of people in an ICU throughout the region are unvaccinated.
County officials report COVID-19 deaths weekly on Mondays, but this week’s report was delayed by a day due to the Labor Day holiday. To date, 1,379 Monroe County residents have died from COVID-19.
As of the Monroe County COVID-19 dashboard’s last local vaccination update on Tuesday, 453,073 county residents are fully vaccinated and 484,419 have received at least one dose of the vaccine — 65.2% of the county population.
The county executive said more than 453,000 Monroe County residents had completed their vaccination series, including more than 485,000 who received at least one dose — accounting for over 75% of the county population.
“As we’ve said all along, vaccination is the best and most effective tool our community has to combat COVID-19,” Bello said. “It’s free, it’s safe, and it works. If you’re eligible and you haven’t been vaccinated yet, today is a great day to do so.”
Bello said Monroe County is preparing for the possibility of COVID-19 booster shots. Although boosters aren’t yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the county executive said work is being done to ensure boosters will be available.
“The booster is not fully FDA approved yet, but we believe the date is drawing near,” Dr. Mendoza said.
Bello said there will be a surge of residents who become eligible for a booster, if approved, by the beginning of next month, with an anticipated peak in 2022.
“That means our current vaccine operation will not be able to handle the volume,” Bello said. “Monroe County will need to reopen a mass vaccination site.”
The county executive said local governments were already assessing possible locations for a mass vaccination site, but said staffing is currently the priority focus of the effort.
To that end, Bello said the county will be offering vaccination site jobs that pay $17-$28 per hour with flexible schedules pertaining to days and hours.
“Do you have a few hours a week to fight against COVID?” Bello said.
The county executive said they are looking to hire at least 100 people by the first week of October, including registered nurses, EMTs, and COVID clerks who provide administrations. Despite the challenges, the county executive said he is confident due to past experience and the promise of state assistance.
“I am confident because we’ve done it before,” Bello said. “This is going to be a Herculean effort because the deadline is compressed — we see through our models that it will start in October, stay steady through Thanksgiving, and then we’ll see an increase in demand for third doses, but the state said they will help local munincipalities to set up and maintain vaccination sites.”
As the county prepares for an influx in booster shots administered, officials say they are still prioritizing people who are yet to receive their first dose.
“As we build up our mass vaccination, we must continue to reach people for the first and second dose,” Bello said. “We have to walk and chew gum at the same time.”
With most districts retuning kids to the classrooms this week, the county executive extended congratulations to local districts for their back to school efforts.
“A big congratulations to all students, teachers, and staff,” Bello said. It’s exciting to see our kids go back to school.”
“Today and over the last week, for the first time in 18 months, our children are in school full time,” Dr. Mendoza said. “That is a huge community accomplishment. Schools re masked, and we are worried about vaccination, but I think it’s prudent to pause and reflect on all that we’ve done.”
The health commissioner said while back to school efforts are an important step in a return to normalcy, he recognized what kids have endured since March 2020.
“It will take decades to unpack the trauma of the past 18 months, especially for children in schools,” Dr. Mendoza said. “I would encourage parents to check in with how students are doing. We need to give our students and staff the space and time because this process will take many years.”
The health commissioner said that the county is currently working to securing enough tests that back to school safety protocols will require.
“Teachers will be required to test [for COVID] or opt out with proof of vaccine, so we are expecting a number of them will need to be tested,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Schools must offer all testing to students under 11, and we understand that parents will also want some of their kids tested. We will not test anybody who does not have parental consent.”
Watch the full briefing
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