Bello, Dr. Mendoza: Booster shots start Friday, change in COVID testing policy for schools

Coronavirus

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza hosted a COVID-19 briefing Thursday afternoon with the Chief Medical Officers of University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), and Rochester Regional Health (RRH), Dr. Michael Apostolakos and Dr. Robert Mayo, respectively.

The county executive said Monroe County reported 230 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, bringing the seven-day average of new cases per day to 216, up from 183 and 164 last week, respectively.

“There’s no doubt there’s an increase,” Bello said.

The county executive also reported that as of Thursday, nearly 500,000 county residents — 498,936 — have received at least one vaccine dose, and 464,577 are fully vaccinated. He reiterated the often-heard sentiment: That vaccines are the best way out of this pandemic.

“We have lost more than 1,400 moms, dads, sisters, and brothers in this community,” Bello said of the currently Monroe County COVID-19 death toll. “We have the power to end this. The vaccine is the best tool to beat COVID-19. Providing vaccines to those who haven’t gotten vaccines is the top priority, along with booster shots to those who need it.”

The county executive announced that Monroe County will begin providing booster shots to eligible residents beginning Friday. Booster shots will be available at the Fleet Center and the MCC downtown campus, with additional clinics to open in the near future. Appointments for booster shots can be made online.

The health commissioner announced a change to COVID-19 testing in schools. He said kids with potential exposure to the virus cannot return to the classroom without a PCR test, saying that the rapid antigen tests would no longer be accepted as proof of negativity. According to Dr. Mendoza, this is a result of the current high rate of community transmission.

As COVID-19 cases have been rising, so too have regional hospitalizations. Dr. Apostolakos said most of URMC’s COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated. He said another factor in rising hospitalizations is nursing homes turning more people away, leaving them to turn to hospitals for care.

URMC officials announced Thursday that the hospital system had fewer than 300 resignations — about 1% of the total — after the state’s vaccine mandate for health care workers took effect earlier this week.

According to officials, URMC employs more than 21,000 across its six hospitals and associated clinics. Officials say 96% of URMC employees have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, with an additional 3% of employees who have been approved for exemptions if they agree to undergo weekly testing for COVID-19.

URMC’s Chief Medical Officer said Thursday that employees who resigned who ultimately get vaccinated, will be welcomed back.

“More than 99% of our staff are still here,” said Dr. Apostolakos during Thursday’s briefing.

Dr. Mayo echoed many of the URMC CMO’s sentiments, adding that the increase in hospitalizations is putting a strain on health care workers.

“We do have understaffed areas,” Dr. Mayo said. “Many people are working overtime. We have patients who have to wait to be moved into hospital rooms.”

The state’s vaccine mandate for health care workers went into effect Monday, despite a legal battle over religious exemptions still playing out in the courts.

“My No. 1 job is to keep people in this state safe, and that’s why we were so serious about the health care vaccine mandate,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said during a Thursday coronavirus briefing. “It was the right thing to do. It was hard, but I stand by it.”

As of Wednesday, the governor said no health care facilities have been forced to close throughout New York since the mandate took effect.

“We got through a difficult week,” Gov. Hochul said. “I thank the people who stood up to protect the people of this state, protect their access to health care, and protect those around you; thank you.”

Additionally, this week Gov. Hochul declared a state of emergency to deal potential health care staffing shortages. The order makes it easier for retired workers to get certified for employment and allows international medical experts to practice in New York hospitals.

The governor said hospital capacity levels are stable statewide, but said the majority of New York’s COVID-19 hospitalizations are from unvaccinated people.

“It’s truly the unvaccinated people populating our hospitals,” Gov. Hochul said. “They have a 10 times higher risk.”

Regarding weekly anti-vaccine mandate protests that have occurred on Mondays outside Strong Memorial Hospital, the county executive said it adds more stress to the community’s already-stressed health care workers.

“Vaccine protests outside the hospitals are disheartening,” Bello said.


Watch the full briefing

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

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