Genesee, Orleans County officials discuss COVID contact tracing, testing, schools and more


BATAVIA, N.Y. (WROC) — Officials from Genesee and Orleans Counties hosted a COVID-19 briefing Thursday morning to update residents on the pandemic, including recent local metrics, booster shot availability, testing, and more.

Participants in the briefing included Shelley Stein, Genesee County Legislature Chair, Matt Landers, Genesee County Manager and Budget Officer, and Paul Pettit, Genesee and Orleans County Public Health Director.

Officials say, like elsewhere in New York and beyond, the omicron variant has caused a spike in new cases.

“We do know that this is mostly driven by omicron and the post holiday surge, but the variant is the primary driver,” Pettit said.

Genesee County had 1,509 total positive COVID-19 cases for the entire month of December and in the first 10 days of January the county had 2,118. Similarly, Orleans County had 938 new cases for all of December and 1,125 in the first 10 days of January.

With the surge of new cases, the counties are changing the contact tracing policy. Earlier this week, Gov. Kathy Hochul said COVID-19 contact tracing was no longer required and that local health departments could dedicate those resources to vaccination and testing.

Pettit announced that Genesee and Orleans would soon launch a portal on its website where people could submit their COVID test results and receive the necessary paperwork for their employer or school.

“You’re going to have ask your employer or school to see what sort of documents they need for you to return, all that information and how to get each documentation can be found on our website,” Pettit said. “Just keep in mind, with this process, there won’t be any follow up from the county. You should self isolate, contact the people close to you, and ideally get tested before you return to the public.”

The health director said the change in contact tracing policy is due to the volume of new cases and a focus of priorities.

“We know that COVID is more severe with elderly and those with underlying conditions, so we will be shifting focus onto those areas of our population when it comes to contact tracing and case investigations,” Pettit said. “Contact tracing is not as effective with larger numbers. It’s virtually impossible for us to get to every case. It’s important to shift to the cases that need more attention instead of everyone in the population.”

In terms of isolation and quarantine for folk who test positive, or are exposed, the counties will follow current New York state guidance.

“Isolation down to five days,” Pettit said. “If someone isn’t feeling great, and is symptomatic, those people should stay in isolation for those whole 10 days just like the last guidance. Getting out after five days does not mean you are not contagious to others and spreading the disease, so it’s important to wear a well-fitted mask. This is make sure we are knocking out any unintended exposures.”

The health director said he meets with superintendents regularly and the counties remain committed to keeping schools open.

“We continue to meet with all of our superintendents on a weekly basis and we are not changing any of the approaches until we get new guidance,” Pettit said. “I will tell you that we remain very committed to keeping schools open and allowing our kids to learn in settings they should be learning in. That is why it’s important that if someone is symptomatic that the stay home.”

Both counties are included in the Finger Lakes region, which currently has 711 people hospitalized with COVID-19, including 118 in an ICU.

To date, Genesee County has reported 164 COVID-19 deaths and Orleans has reported 104.

“Our data has clearly shown the people that are vaccinated are doing much better than the unvaccinated,” Pettit said. “The majority of the deaths that we have seen are unvaccinated cases and none of them have come from people who are boosted.”

According to Dan Ireland, President of United Memorial Medical Center, a Rochester Regional Health hospital in Batavia:

  • Overall hospital capacity at UMMC is at 86% as an average over last six days
  • 100% of patients in the ICU are unvaccinated at UMMC
  • 100% of patients on a ventilator are unvaccinated at UMMC
  • COVID patients represent 36% of total hospitalized population at UMMC

Resident in Genesee and Orleans Counties can register for a vaccine appointment online.

The health director said the new state-run COVID-19 testing site is operational in Albion.

“Albion site has pre-registration and walk-in testing availability,” Pettit said. “The testing response rates have been slower than expected, there has been a backlog, but that timeframe should be reducing. People should use testing; we have fought hard for this and people have t take advantage. Starting today, the Albion site will offer free rapid and PCR tests.”

The health director said it’s important that residents wear masks in public during the omicron surge.

“We want people to wear masks,” Pettit said. “I believe we are moving toward an endemic model. Things are shifting on how we’re moving forward, but make sure if you’re sick you stay home, seek out that test, wash your hands often, and avoid lose contact with people who may be sick.”

The health director said Genesee County has documented 54 cases of the flu, and Orleans County has had 17, higher than last year when flu was effectively a non-factor.

Watch Full Briefing:

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

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