WATCH | Coronavirus in Monroe County: One year later

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Some days it feels like it’s been the longest year ever of our lives. Other days, it feels like it was only yesterday the pandemic was beginning.

Thursday marks exactly one year since Monroe County’s first confirmed case of the coronavirus. While much was unknown then, we know well what happened in the days, weeks, and months to follow.

To commemorate the past year and all its difficulties, News 8 WROC is hosting a special town hall event Thursday from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Local leaders joining the program to discuss the past calendar year will include Monroe County Executive Adam Bello, Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza, Dr. Ann Falsey of University of Rochester Medical Center, and more community members.

Also to mark the anniversary, County Executive Bello and Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren will declare March 11th as COVID-19 Commemoration Day.

As part of this initiative, Bello and Warren ask all residents to shine a light at 8 p.m. in memory of the lives lost to COVID-19 and as a “thanks to all the health care and essential workers who have contributed to keeping our community safe during this difficult time.” Lights at the Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport and other buildings around Rochester will be lit in white at 8 p.m.

Earlier Thursday, Bello, Warren, and Mendoza were joined by University of Rochester Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael Apostolakas, Rochester Regional Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Mayo to commemorate the one year anniversary.

Adam Bello

“Today’s briefing is a little different than our typical community update, because we have come together to recognize and commemorate the one year anniversary of the first COVID-19 case here in our community,” Bello said. “It’s hard to believe a year has passed since we received confirmation of our first confirmed positive case of COVID-19 here in Monroe County. At the time we knew things were going to change, we knew things were going to be a little different, we just didn’t know exactly when and exactly how.

“Just two days after our first case we had our second, and with that came the difficult decision to close our schools for the foreseeable future, and things really did change day-by-day, sometimes hour-by-hour,” Bello said. “The unknown was ever present. When will be able to see our families again? When will our kids go back to school? When could we return to work? So many questions and early on, too few answers.”

The county executive commended the community for coming together in such trying times.

“What stands out above all else over the course of the year was the way every aspect of our community banded together during difficult times,” Bello said. “Our government partners from across the county came together we shared information, we talked to each other every day, from across party lines, across the community. In a very beautiful way, everyday people across our community stepped up to lend a helping hand in any way they could. Our community found new ways to come together despite the physical distance required.

“Of course, no COVID-19 recognition would be complete without honoring the dedicated healthcare workers, essential employees and other frontline staff,” Bello said. “We cannot thank you enough for your selflessness, your dedication and for putting the needs of your community ahead of your own, but through all the partnership and coming together, our community has experienced an unbearable about of heartbreak.”

Lovely Warren

“As many of you know, my beloved mom is one of those thousands whose memories remain in our hearts, and it’s certainly up to us and as a city, and county, and community, to acknowledge, and pay homage to every life no longer with with us,” Mayor Warren said. “A year ago I did not think that I would be here standing, here having lost my mom to this virus. I couldn’t visit in the hospital, I talked to her through the phone.

“When she was put on the ventilator, my sister and I watched through facetime,” Warren said. “The woman who gave us life — we couldn’t hug her. Like so many other families across this country it’s different, this death, and although we are a family of faith and we know so gained her wings our lives were forever changed. I think about the citizens and nursing homes and hospitals, secluded, quarantined and lonely. Not able to feel the warm embrace of their loved ones with no choice but to pass away alone from heartbreak.”

“Everyone who walked the same path that my sister and I had to walk — lives will forever be changed,” Warren said. “They will never be the same again. Hearts shattered, but wanting to move forward. It gave me hope that we were able to provide food to our children, that we were able to provide tests to our people, that we were able to help our businesses, able to help our restaurants and come out on the other side of this pandemic stronger.”

Dr. Michael Mendoza

“Nothing will replace the humanity that we have lost, but I am hopeful that the spirit of all of us here today, as we come together one year later at the beginning of this pandemic, will lift us all up,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Nearly 1,200 people in Monroe County have died — leaving behind sons and daughters, mothers and daughters, for you, this pandemic has been especially hard. So much of the life that we cherished was suddenly swept away. Holding the hand of an aging parent, high school football games in the crisp autumn air, a room full of kindergarteners, meeting friends for dinner —these simple pleasures were stripped away.

“People lost their livelihoods and we had to learn to live with the incredible uncertainty day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month,” Dr. Mendoza said. “In the midst of all this trauma however we have gained. This community, long known for operating in silos, came together. We knocked down walls and built partnerships that only a crisis would bring to fruition. We saw our broken systems of racism, economic disparity. We gained a new appreciation and understanding of science, how we honor, respect and value science in our decision making, how we much be patient as it evolved.

“We gained resilience,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We were able to hold on to hope, and as I stand before you today there are many reason to be hopeful. Not long ago having a vaccine was something on the horizon and now we re vaccinating thousands of people every day. We will soon be enjoying warmer weather, warmer days, and more freedom to socialize in safer ways. Now is not the time to take off our masks and let down our guard, but it is time to reflect on what we have been through we must hold on to what we have learned. Indeed we should all look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.”

Dr. Robert Mayo

“It’s impossible to calculate the vast impact on this pandemic on each of us,” Dr. Mayo said. “This pandemic has magnified inequities in health care that as a community we need to overcome. This and many other things have magnified the importance of our human connections. This, I would never wish a pandemic on anyone, but I am grateful for the things we learned together.

“We must ask ourselves some questions: Am I a better person today than I was before this pandemic?” Dr. Mayo said. “Have I lessened the suffering of my neighbor? What have I done to make a difference in this world ? These are the questions that will live with us and change our future. I’m grateful that so many people in this community lived so well in the effort to overcome this pandemic, and I don’t know what the future holds for all of us, but I am so encouraged and hopefully of the expanding availability of the vaccine, but whatever the future holds for us, I am confident in the strength and resiliency, the collaboration, and above all the goodness of this community.”

Dr. Michael Apostolakos

“This is the biggest public health challenge any of us have faced, and it’s heartening to see how our community has pulled together to face it,” Dr. Apostolakos said. “I’m especially thankful and proud of the health care workers at UR Medicine. As we stand here today, it’s exciting to have three different vaccines that are all incredibly safe and effective in preventing serious COVID illness. Everyone who is eligible should schedule an appointment and get the shot with whatever vaccine is available to them. B

“But even as more people are vaccinated, we need to keep our guard up,” Dr. Apostolakos said. “We need to avoid a new surge of COVID, we need to continue to wear masks in public, avoid large gatherings and continue to use good hand hygiene. As our community comes closer to achieving herd immunity, life will become closer to what it was before.

“In some ways the delivery of health care will never be the same and it will be better because of what we learned from COVD,” Dr. Apostolakos said. “For example, we have gotten way better at preventing infection. There have been almost no cases of the flu because of what the public has done.”

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