Flattening a taller curve: What’s different about the local COVID-19 spike this time around

Coronavirus

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) – Monroe County Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Michael Mendoza joined University of Rochester Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael Apostolakos, and Rochester Regional Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Mayo Wednesday morning for an update on hospital capacity in the area.

“I want to begin with a phrase we haven’t used in months: Flatten the curve,” Dr. Mendoza said. “The curve represented bed capacity, but more importantly the ability to provide for our community’s critical needs. We are in a different place now, we face an even greater risk. Our health care workers are tired, and like you, they are frustrated.”

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The health commissioner said the risk is greater now than it was in the spring, but said the community is also more prepared to handle the virus.

“We are testing more,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We are identifying people earlier. This allows us to avoid higher levels of care. We have hope for a vaccine in a not too distant future. The curve isn’t just about beds and ventilators, it’s about people our nurses, doctors, health care providers. We cannot take them for granted.”

While the health care systems are more prepared and informed than the spring, the curve the community now faces is taller than it was.

“We know more about COVID-19 now,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We are better prepared from the standpoint of treatment, understanding the illness, PPE. So in that sense things are better, but in some ways things are worse. We now have a community that is tired, we have a healthcare community that is just as frustrated. We had all hoped that we wouldn’t be in this position, of having to flatten the curve once again, but we are here and the curve is taller.”

Health officials agree, the situation currently is more dire than it previously was.

“URMC is currently seeing 221 COVID-19 patients, that’s more than double the COVID patients we saw at during the highest surge last spring,” Dr. Apostolakos said. “As the number of COVID has continued to rise, it has become harder to fully staff all these care needs. So beginning today, UR medicine is selectively postposing medical procedures that can be delayed without harming patients.”

MORE | URMC postponing some nonessential surgeries due to spike in COVID-19

URMC’s Chief Medical Officer says it’s important for those in the community to know that while this policy is in effect, folks with previously scheduled procedures should assume things will happen as planned.

“If you are planning to have a procedure with a UR medicine provider, please assume it will take place as scheduled unless you hear otherwise,” said Dr. Apostolakos said. “The hospital has capacity. If you have COVID or another illness that requires hospitalization, we can take care of you.”

In the meantime, Dr. Apostolakos is urging the community to use every day measures to prevent further spread of the virus.

“All of us are tired,” Dr. Apostolakos said. “We are eager to have vaccines that will finally bring an end to this pandemic, but in the meantime we know how to flatten the curve, as Dr. Mendoza said. Stay physically distanced, wear a mask when you’re anywhere other than your household, and wash your hands.”

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Dr. Mayo echoed the sentiment that the situation is increasingly dire for RRH as well.

“We have definitely exceeded the spring numbers, substantially,” Dr. Mayo said. “RRH has nearly double the number of patients that we had at our peak in May.”

In line with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s winter COVID-19 strategy, unveiled earlier this week, the hospital systems are in the process of evenly distributing COVID-19 patients throughout their network’s facilities.

“We’re trying to distribute patient needs to resource matching, so what that means if we do shift some patients through hospitals as needed, when beds are available,” Dr. Mayo said.

Health care staffing is an increasingly important resource as hospitalization rates surge, but officials say they have adequate staffing for now, but urge the community to do their part to not increase the stress on the hospital systems.

“We have no [staffing] gap right now,” Dr. Apostolakos said. “We have staff to care for the patients that we’re currently taking care of, however, with the surge in COVID cases we need to make sure we have staff to care for those patients.”

“We’ve had flex plans throughout the summer that are being updated and refreshed regularly, and we’re following those plans and accommodating the patients’ needs,” Dr. Mayo said. “All that you can do as a community is greatly welcomed.”

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Even with rising cases, active cases, and virus hospitalizations, health officials say experiences earlier in the year has led to an increased understanding in handling the pandemic.

“I believe our strategy right now is better than it was in the spring,” Dr. Apostolakos said.

The health commissioner said discussions regarding a potential field hospital are still in the early stages.

“The first plan was written with not having winter in front of us and not having influenza in front of us, and I think it was written at a time when the concern around staffing wasn’t as great as it is now,” Dr. Mendoza said.

Back in April, Monroe County secured space at the Joseph A. Floreano Rochester Riverside Convention Center for a potential field hospital if it was needed.

The health commissioner remains hopeful that the community can come together once again to do what we did before.

“May 18 was the day we projected seeing a spike in Monroe County and thanks to everyone’s efforts that spike didn’t happen,” Dr. Mendoza said. “So we were able to look ahead and change our behavior and that spike didn’t happen. My hope is the same today.”

Last month, both hospital systems suspended visitation due to the increase in COVID-19 cases in the area.

In Tuesday’s update from the county department of health, Dr. Mendoza announced the highest hospitalization number since the pandemic first began — 422 people in the Finger Lakes region are currently hospitalized, including 68 in an ICU.

MORE | 504 new COVID-19 cases in Monroe County, 422 hospitalizations is all-time high

Officials reported 504 new cases Tuesday, bringing the seven-day rolling average to 427 new cases per day. Tuesday’s update pushed Monroe County past 2,000 new COVID-19 cases in just the last four days.

Rep. Joe Morelle, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello, and Mendoza participated in a coronavirus town hall Tuesday on News 8 to answer pandemic-related questions.

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

Full press conference:

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