ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Help is on the way to fight the COVID-19 pandemic locally.
That was the message from state and county leaders Wednesday as Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin joined Monroe County Executive Adam bello at the Carter Street Recreation Center in Rochester to update residents on the COVID-19 pandemic, announce incoming support teams, and encourage vaccination.
The lieutenant governor said 13 teams of National Guard members will be coming to Monroe County to assist with COVID-19 support, including helping in hospitals and with local vaccination efforts. Lt. Gov. Benjamin said the 13 teams are two-unit groups of medically trained professionals.
“These are EMT-trained National Guard members,” Lt. Gov. Benjamin said. “We are prepared to bring in more who don’t have EMT experience, but may be able to help.”
According to the lieutenant governor, the 26 National Guard members being deployed to Rochester represents the biggest deployment group for any region currently being activated in regards to COVID-19 purposes in New York state.
“We are looking into having more folks from the National Guard to help with the staffing shortages, but we will see how it plays out,” Lt. Gov. Benjamin said. “This is not a one-size fits all approach.”
There’s been a recent surge of COVID-19 in the Rochester region, as County Executive Bello declared a state of emergency Tuesday for the second time during the pandemic.
“Our numbers are too high here in Monroe County,” Bello said at Wednesday’s press conference with the lieutenant governor. “Today we are reporting an additional 624 cases in Monroe County. Yesterday I announced a state of emergency because we are in a state of emergency. I need the public’s help; wear a mask, go get vaccinated.”
The new state of emergency was instituted due to rapidly rising COVID-19 hospitalizations throughout the Finger Lakes region, Bello said Tuesday. According to the New York State Department of Health, the Finger Lakes region currently has 462 COVID-19 patients in the hospital, the highest it has been since February 5, 2021 (483).
“Of those people hospitalized with COVID-19, 60% are not vaccinated,” Bello said. “82% of those on ventilators are not vaccinated. If you are not vaccinated, you are six to eight times more likely be hospitalized with COVID and nine times more likely to be on a ventilator.”
Additionally, Monroe County is seeing its highest new daily case amounts, and seven-day average positivity rates since early January of this year.
“Gov. Kathy Hochul and I are monitoring this very closely,” Lt. Gov. Benjamin said. “We will use a scalpel, not a hammer to do so.”
Bello said under Phase I of the state of emergency:
- A facemask will be required in county facilities
- A work from home policy for county employees able to do so
- The county is encouraging local government, public and private sectors to do the same
- The county also wants to expand rapid test in the area and will provide 750,000 rapid at-home testing kits for county residents
The county executive said the state of emergency will stay in place until hospitalizations are stabilized. Bello said if the region does not start improving with numbers, Phase II of the state of emergency will be declared, which will start looking into vaccinations and testing requirements.
Despite the rising cases and hospitalizations, and the new state of emergency, the county executive said he’s hopeful the tide will turn.
“I will never give up on this community, Bello said. “We can flatten the curve and we can do it together.”
According to the Monroe County Department of Public Health Monday, 485,419 county residents are fully vaccinated, with 531,769 who have received at least one vaccine dose — 82.2% of the county population.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Lt. Gov. Benjamin said. “One of the things I’m doing is going around the state to encourage parents and our next generation to get vaccinated. It is our main weapon.”
Gov. Kathy Hochul announced an executive order Friday aimed at boosting hospital capacity ahead of a potential winter spike in COVID-19 cases. Hochul’s order allows the state health department to limit non-essential surgeries, if needed, to ensure capacity.
Bello said Tuesday that was having discussions with the governor on how this executive order will impact Monroe County, and said he would discuss the possibility of requesting assistance from the National Guard to address staffing shortages in hospitals.
The response that National Guard teams would be deployed locally came just 24 hours later.
Gov. Hochul said the order also will allow the state to acquire critical supplies more quickly. The move comes amid growing concerns about hospital beds and staffing — as well as a new concerning coronavirus variant, omicron.
WHO officials said Monday that the global risk from the omicron variant is “very high” based on the early evidence, saying the mutated coronavirus could lead to surges with “severe consequences.” As of Wednesday morning, there were no confirmed cases of omicron in New York or the U.S.
The local health commissioner said the delta variant is the more immediate concern for Monroe County.
“We know delta is here, and it’s here in force,” Dr. Mendoza. “We know who’s eligible to get the booster, should get the booster. We know there is waning efficacy, and a booster will help a further increase in hospitalizations. Let’s focus on what we can control. We know delta is here so rather worry about things that are our of our control, I think it’s prudent to manage what we can.”
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.