ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Monroe County Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza updated Monroe County residents on the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday during their weekly briefing with media.
The county executive began the briefing condemning the actions of the pro-Trump mob which spurred chaos at the U.S. Capitol building Wednesday.
“This was not peaceful protesting, it was domestic terrorism and it was an attempt to block our government from carrying out its constitutional duties,” Bello said. “It was un-American at its core. While we have the right as Americans to disagree on ideology, taking things to the level of violence and chaos is unacceptable.”
In regards to COVID-19, the county executive expressed some cautious optimism. In Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent briefings, he has consistently said the Finger Lakes region continues to be a problem region for the state, with some of the highest infection rates and hospitalization rates in New York.
“Over the holiday weeks we have seen some glimmers of hope where the numbers look to have stabilized, or in same cases, are going down,” Bello said. “This isn’t because the prevalence of COVID-19 is decreasing in the community. It’s bc the number of positive cases we get is directly tied to the numbers for daily testing. If you look at the seven-day positivity rate, it continues to hover at just around 10%, but back before Thanksgiving our seven-day average daily testing was at its highest at nearly 9,000 test per day. Where this week we’ve seen a seven-day average around 5,000 tests.”
The health commissioner said his department reported 64 new COVID-19 deaths in Monroe County Thursday, adding that those deaths occurred between December 14 and January 4.
“For now we’re not seeing a post-holiday surge, but testing is erratic so it’s hard to draw conclusions,” Dr. Mendoza said.
The county executive said vaccination efforts are expanding.
“Outside of the local hospitals and nursing home, Monroe County has opened up two small vaccination pods for those eligible to receive the vaccine like first responders,” Bello said. “This is for individuals who are outside of the hospital systems. If you fit under the 1a guidelines and you’re wondering where you go to get a vaccine, you can go to our website and make an appointment there after you talk to your employer.”
The health commissioner said more than 27,000 health care workers have been vaccinated locally so far.
“As of today, about 27,800 frontline health care workers have been vaccinated by one of our two hospital systems,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We are continuing to work our way through the Phase 1a eligibility criteria for vaccination. your turn will arrive and I promise you when it does, you will know about it.”
The county executive said due to limited supply, the vaccination process will be a slow one and he urged residents to stay safe to limit the spread of the virus.
“We want to remind everyone that this is going to be a long and thorough process it’s not going to happen in one week, not a month, not even three months,” Bello said. “Our community does remain at a critical point in COVID-19. Our positivity rate is too high, our hospitalization rate is too high, and we need to come together to bring that down.”
“The biggest slow down right now, if you want to call it that, is the availability of vaccines,” Dr. Mendoza said.
Concerning vaccine skeptics, the health commissioner said it’s OK to question things and encouraged constructive conversation.
“We knew going into this that we we’re entering uncharted territory surrounding vaccines,” Dr. Mendoza said. “What we’re dealing with is a vaccine that is new, developed under a year and let’s talk about your concerns, tell me about how you’re feeling about this. Let’s engage in a dialogue so we can come to a place where we have an understanding, where we have accurate information. I invite people to disagree and I invite people to ask questions. I’m actually very optimistic about how the next weeks and months will go.”
The county executive reminded residents that there is currently no vaccination mandate.
The health commissioner said while critical mass vaccination was still months away, it remains critical that residents remain safe to reduce the possibility of overwhelming the local hospital systems.
“Our regions ICU capacity is decreasing, our hospital and other healthcare workers are stretched pretty thin and people are still dying,” Dr. Mendoza.
With Thursday’s update of 64 new COVID-19 deaths, Monroe County’s to-date total rose to 685. At last update, the Finger Lakes region had 30% available hospital bed capacity and 25% available ICU capacity.
According to the state’s surge and flex plan, if a region’s hospital capacity trends to 90%, it would initiate a red zone designation which would effectively shut down all non-essential businesses.
The county executive expressed concern about local businesses, such as restaurants, impacted by state-mandated closures and restrictions from orange and yellow zone designations.
“My concern is the long term viability of restaurants,” Bello said. “The longer we keep them closed, the harder it’s going to be for them to survive. What I think the path forward is, there should be a plan created — very similar to how barbershops and salons were allowed to reopen, and schools.”
“We’re sort of feeling our way through this and the reality is I can understand why people see it’s unfair, because in some respects it is,” Dr. Mendoza said. “You got one business 100 feet from another with completely different zone designations, but there is a scientific experiment going on here. We’re not actually able to do comparisons between two different groups.”
Check back with News 8 WROC as we continue to update this developing story.