Bello, Dr. Mendoza on COVID-19 in Monroe County: ‘The numbers are increasing’


ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza held a briefing with media Thursday to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, and the county’s ongoing response efforts.

This is the second iteration of the officials’ weekly briefing. In last week’s inaugural edition, they announced that Monroe County had the lowest COVID-19 case rate of any community in the country with more than 500,000 people, according to data compiled by The New York Times.

Increasing cases

Yet, the concern of rising cases locally is on the minds of many, as Wednesday’s report included 86 new confirmed cases — the largest single-day increase for Monroe County since May 19 (95).

“Everyday we report cases that we learn about, but on any given date, they represent a range of tests when they’re actually done,” Dr. Mendoza explained during Thursday’s briefing. “Those 86 test results represent a range of days when they were done. So the increase was alarming, but it doesn’t show 86 new cases in a day.”

Even with the test processing explanation, the health commissioner did say that rates have been increasing recently.

“The numbers are increasing, more rapidly in two weeks,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We are seeing increased numbers of micro-clusters, they may represent St. John Fisher’s but these clusters aren’t always together.

“In large majority, it’s because of these people who gather,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Clusters, which are figured out through tracing, and the rest of the county: Those are the two types of numbers.”

Sticking to the basics for the holidays

To prevent spread, the health commissioner stuck to recommendations he’s been making for months.

“My message: If you’re sick, stay home,” Dr. Mendoza said. “If you have allergy symptoms, please stay home. Please wear your mask. Be thoughtful about your gatherings. I want us to be thinking about those in our circle, we want to do everything we can to keep ourselves health, and for those who come in to visit, especially in these two week windows near holidays.”

“Now is a good time to think as a community and as families to think about actions we can all take to keep our community safe,” Bello said. “There are a lot of fun and safe ways to celebrate Halloween. Trick-or-treating can be safe, but we don’t want to see house parties, bonfires, or large indoor gatherings.”

Pandemic fatigue

Regarding pandemic fatigue, the health commissioner said as tired people may be, it’s important to keep doing what we’ve been doing to help prevent spread.

“Everyone knows what COVID fatigue is,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We’re all waiting until this is over, but we don’t have the luxury of letting go. I do think we need to keep pushing. It’s hard, and people may be getting lax, but I think most people are doing a good job.”

“The concern here is that now you have COVID fatigue, we’re going back inside,” Bello said. “What was good was us being thoughtful about the things we normally would do. We can’t have 30 people in a house doing a costume party.”

Smaller hotspots

Unlike hotspot clusters elsewhere in New York state, the health commissioner says that spread is happening in Monroe County due to gatherings.

“There isn’t one hotspot,” Dr. Mendoza said. “People are gathering, and it’s likely they’ll share the infection, and because they don’t believe they’re at risk, they share it with their family. My sense is that gatherings are happening without people using protection. My sense is that community spread is increasing, but at a much slower rate than we’re seeing elsewhere in the country.”

The health commissioner said he’s preparing his department for increased contact tracing and case investigative work.

“I am preparing our staff to shift our workforce back to contact tracing,” Dr. Mendoza said. “My hope is that we don’t need to do this.”

Flu season

Regarding influenza, the health commissioner says things have been steady.

“Flu and COVID are very different,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We’re still in the single digits of flu cases in Monroe County, and in normal years, we usually have much higher rates of flu. Those numbers might be lower because people are taking COVID precautions.”

For more information regarding influenza in Monroe County, visit this website.

Fast response to Fast Forward Monroe

The county executive said there has already been a big response to Fast Forward Monroe, the new $15 million grant program, launched Wednesday, to assist small businesses in navigating the pandemic.

“800 applications came in already for Fast Forward Monroe,” Bello said. “The response shows how badly needed this program is.”

The deadline for the application for small businesses is November 2 at 5 p.m. The application can be found here.

Officials said funds should be released about three weeks after the application process.

Clusters vs. community spread

Dr. Mendoza explained the subtle, but important difference between clusters and community spread.

“Clusters are people linked in through contact tracing,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Clusters don’t present a larger risk to the public. Community spread is unexplained, and it’s hard to measure, but we are seeing both at play.”

As far as identifying the clusters, the health commissioner said no single cluster zone is large enough at this time to pin down.

“There isn’t a single zip code or business,” Dr. Mendoza said. “It’s a micro-cluster, and there’s no unifying there. For example, 25% of today’s cases are tied to the St. John Fisher cluster, but that number changes from day-to-day.”

Federal failures

The county executive applauded the community for — mostly — following the guidance and precautions put forth so far, but he was critical of the federal government’s handling of the pandemic to this point.

“This should have been a much better national strategy at reducing the spread of this virus,” Bello said. “What happens elsewhere in the country reflects what happens here. Testing, tracing; it all should have been better at the federal level. COVID-19 shouldn’t be political. Wearing a mask shouldn’t be political. It’s an act of caring about your community and your neighbors.”

Thursday’s numbers

The Monroe County Department of Health reported 48 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, bringing the to-date total to 6,508.

Officials also reported one new COVID-19 death in Monroe County, bringing the to-date total to 306.

Currently, 42 people in the Finger Lakes region are hospitalized with the virus, while 10 are receiving treatment in an ICU.

Ages of the new cases are as follows:

1Female under 10
1Male under 10
8Female 10-19
7Male 10-19
7Female in her 20s
8Male in his 20s
1Female in her 30s
3Male in his 30s
3Female in her 40s
1Male in his 40s
4Female in her 50s
1Male in his 50s
1Female in her 60s
1Male in his 60s
 Female in her 70s
1Male in his 70s
 Female in her 80s
 Male in his 80s
 Female in her 90s
 Male in his 90s
 Female 100+
 Male 100+

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

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