Bello, Dr. Mendoza: ‘Remarkable’ COVID-19 turnaround in Monroe County, vaccine supply still limited

Coronavirus

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza are scheduled to provide an update on COVID-19 in Monroe County.

Right direction

Monroe County’s COVID-19 numbers have been improving, evidenced by Thursday’s update which showed a seven-day rolling average positivity rate of 2.9% — the first time that rate has been below 3% in Monroe County since November 5.

“What we’ve seen is a steady decline,” Bello said. “We’re clearly heading in the right direction, so we just need to stay on top if it right now to continue to see that downward trend. Today’s seven-day average positivity rate was 2.9%. Last week when we met, it was 4.9%, it’s a remarkable turnaround.”

“We’re not out of the woods — that’s still 3%, meaning in a room of 100 people, there will still be three people who can infect others,” Dr. Mendoza said. “What I will say is that the holiday surge is behind us. We know a lot of people were gathering over the holidays, but we also know a lot of people took precautions during the holidays and that’s what we’re seeing now.”

The county executive said hospitalization rates are trending down as well.

“Our hospital and ICU numbers, which we’ve said were a lagging indicator, they also continue to trend downward,” Bello said. “I think this is truly a testament to all the work and effort our community has undertaken to reduce the spread of COVID-19 — we just need to keep it up.”

As things improve, the county executive recognized the grim milestone Monroe County reached: 1,000 COVID-19 deaths to date.

“That’s 1,000 mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, loved ones and friends,” Bello said. “This has been an incredibly long and hard 11 months since our community’s first case of COVID-19. We’ve all grown accustomed, in some ways almost numb, to the daily data we receive, but 1,000 deaths is a staggering number and one that reminds us just how serious this virus can truly be, but it is also a good reminder to reflect — that behind all those numbers we give you is a person.”

“I’ve had the privilege of caring for many of these families in the hospital, in my office, and I can attest to the very, very real difficulty that people have experienced from COVID-19,” Dr. Mendoza said.

Vaccination

Both the county executive and the health commissioner reiterated a familiar sentiment: There’s not enough COVID-19 vaccine available to be administered.

In the latest virus update from the state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the federal government will be increasing the vaccine supply to the states.

“The increase is now going to go from 16% to about 20% as a direct allocation,” Gov. Cuomo said. “That means the state will then turn around and supply 20% additional to the local governments, so they can count on an additional 20% in the coming weeks.”

The governor said with local governments getting 20% more vaccine allocation, they can add certain eligible populations to the Phase 1b priority, including:

  • Restaurant workers
  • Taxi drivers
  • Developmentally disabled facilities

Recognizing different needs in different regions, the governor said the distribution of the added allocation, and which groups get priority, will be up to local governments.

Even with the increased supply, officials say it’s not enough to vaccinate all eligible groups.

“At this point the challenge that we are faced with is we simply do not have the supply to meet that demand,” Bello said. “We still have tens of thousand of people here in Monroe County who are eligible and the supply isn’t there yet. Once that supply is available, the eligibility can be expanded, it can be revisited.

“At this point, what we really need to do is work with everyone and understand patience that’s required when we face a situation where a demand and ability to administer the vaccine greatly outweighs the supply,” Bello said. “We need to make sure we’re following the guidance — don’t give up on the progress we made over the last several months.”

“There’s really no perfect way to allocate a scare resource like this,” Dr. Mendoza said. “The fact of the matter is, we have to have some cutoffs to have somewhat of an organized procedure.”

Livingston County officials said Wednesday that due to lack of vaccine supply, they would continue to prioritize the previously eligible populations before the new group.

Dr. Mendoza said the Finger Lakes regional hub would be opening a new vaccine pop-up site to better serve the rural communities around Rochester.

“When the vaccine supply opens up, I’m very hopefully that we’ll get to the point where we give thousands of vaccines everyday in Monroe County,” Dr. Mendoza.

Restaurant workers talk about vaccine eligibility:

Variant strains

The health commissioner said the county has been sending COVID-19 samples to the Wadsworth Lab to test for the presence of a variant strain in our community.

“To date we have not had it [a variant COVID-19 strain] here in Monroe County,” Dr. Mendoza said.

Testing

The county executive and health commissioner said testing is key to reducing the spread, so virus cases can be discovered and people can be isolated and treated if necessary.

“We’re evaluating our entire testing program as we speak so we still have the county testing program that is available on our website,” Dr. Mendoza said.

Back to normal?

As the positivity and hospitalization rates decline, and COVID-19 restrictions, the health commissioner said it’s important to remember everyday safety measures like wearing your mask when becoming more active in the community.

“As we reawaken, so to speak, from a lot of the limitations we have been living through, I think all of us have to come to a new sense of normalcy,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Having gone to restaurants, having gone to places to shop myself, I feel very comfortable. We stand in a good place to begin to slowly achieve that comfort again, but it doesn’t come without a little bit a risk and as I tell people, as we move into warmer months, we also have to come to that risk you’re comfortable with.”

Nursing homes

With the situation improving, the possibility of resuming nursing home visitations is back in the focus.

“I think the one thing we can do to continue to stack the odds in our favor is to work with the nursing homes, and the people who work in the nursing homes, to continue to improve that vaccination rate because with all those measures in place I think we’ll be very safe to open up nursing home visitation. It’s undeniable that our loved ones, living in nursing homes, need and want that connection.”

“The good news is that the uptick of the vaccination amongst the nursing home population has been very, very good,” Bello said. “So we can be confident that those residents are protected, I think, should give us comfort in being able to allow visitation.”

Watch the full press briefing:

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

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