ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Monroe County Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza joined University of Rochester Medical Center’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael Apostolakos and Rochester Regional Health’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Mayo for a coronavirus update Wednesday afternoon.
The health commissioner said that the vaccine’s arrival locally doesn’t mean people can let their guard down, especially at a social time of the year.
“I know that vaccination planning and execution is the topic of the day, but I want to pause and remind everyone that we are still in the middle of a pandemic and we will still be for months to come as people get the vaccine,” Dr. Mendoza said. “People continue to die from COVID at an alarming rate. As you consider gatherings with people outside of your household over the coming week, I urge you to remember those who lost loved ones.”
The health commissioner said that seemingly innocuous traditions can be a source of viral spread.
“While it is simply human nature for all of us to want to get together, our traditions can make someone we love get very sick,” Dr. Mendoza said. “A Christmas cookie decorating party, a wine night … Just because someone tested negative, it does not mean that person can’t bring the virus to your dining table. In honor of those families who will be mourning a loved one this holiday season I urge you to do your best to stop the spread.”
“Our chief concern heading into the new year is a concern over the bounce in the number of cases of COVID-19 caused by this double holiday,” Dr. Apostolakos said. “At Thanksgiving time, people may spend a day or two at home and have a meal or two together. During this holiday season, people tend to stay longer, tend to visit friends when in the area. I’m concerned about too much socialization. Right now our system is able to care for both COVID and non-COVID illness and if we keep the cases down we can continue to do so. If we see a bump of cases due to the holidays this will stress our systems.”
Regarding COVID-19 designation zones, the health commissioner said he’s received no update from the New York State Department of Health.
“To my knowledge there hasn’t been any change in the orange and red strategies,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We’ve been in conversation with the state all morning, around the vaccination issues, but I haven’t heard of any updates otherwise.”
URMC’s Chief Medical Officer said the spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations locally is leaving the health systems under pressure.
“Our staff is doing a great job, but their stressed and their stretched,” Dr. Apostolakos said. “They’re doing overtime, we’re hiring travelers and everybody’s pitching in to take the best care of our community as we can, but my concern is that the number of admissions continue to creep up. One thing the community can do for our health care providers this holiday season is to stay socially distant. I’m concerned about the unnecessary deaths and the people who won’t be there next year because of the choices people make.”
RRH’s Chief Medical officer echoed those sentiments.
“Many of these patients are in our ICUs and our ICU staff is very stressed, and this is a very big concern as we shift staff to manage the care of these patients and we try to manage the resources needed for them,” Dr. Mayo said. “The message can’t be too loud, we need the help of the community to reduce the spread.”
Health officials say the vaccination process has gone smoothly so far.
“The vaccination process is very exciting,” Dr. Mayo said. “This has been a long awaited day and we receive the vaccine with joyful hearts. Because the vaccine delivery process has been protected by confidentiality, we have not known except for a couple days beforehand, how much vaccine we will be receiving and when we’ll be receiving it, so that has created some challenges of letting people know ahead of time. So for many of our employees receiving the vaccine in the first couple of clinics felt bumpy and erratic, but now we have a smooth process.”
“Our faculty and staff are excited about this vaccine, they see this vaccine as the beginning of the end of the pandemic to get back to normal life, and taking care of non-COVID illness,” Dr. Apostolakos said. “As of yesterday over 3,600 faculty and staff have received the COVID vaccine throughout our hospitals.”
“This is what we’ve been preparing for,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We have plans to do this, but we have not been able to do this alone. This will be the largest undertaking of our generation and right now were focused on getting it done early. Our focus is really on tier one right now. The plans, as they unfold for the general public, are in development.”
Many in the community continue to wait to find out when the vaccine will be publicly available, but health officials say it remains unknown.
“I know that a lot of people are wondering when they will be up next,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We’re actually asking you not to call your doctor yet. We will reach out to you when we have the information, but right now our doctors are swamped. We’re coordinating all that through the regional hub which is currently out of U of R Strong Memorial. We need to use data because that’s how we know were following through on our goal to be equitable and fair as this vaccine rolls out.
The health commissioner said that staffing at designated test sites will continue as viably as possible throughout the holidays.
“I have to look at the schedule to be specific on that, but I think just because of the holidays and availability of volunteers it may be reduced a little bit, but we still want to keep testing,” Dr. Mendoza said.
In the latest update from Monroe County Department of Public Health, officials said there are currently 775 people in the Finger Lakes region hospitalized with the virus, including 125 in an ICU. The regional number of virus hospitalizations is currently at an all-time high (775) since the pandemic began.
According to the health department, the region has 33% available hospital capacity, and 32% available ICU capacity.
According to the state’s surge and flex plan, if a region’s hospital capacity trends to 90%, if would initiate a red zone designation which would effectively shut down all non-essential businesses.
Watch the full news conference:
Check back with News 8 WROC as we continue to update this developing story.