Local health officials stress importance of flu vaccine, maintaining COVID-19 precautions


ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Local health officials held a press conference Thursday to discuss the upcoming flu season, and to stress the importance of getting vaccinated.

Monroe County Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza was joined by Dr. Michael Apostolakos, Chief Medical Officer at Strong Memorial and Highland Hospitals, and Dr. Robert Mayo, Chief Medical Officer at Rochester Regional Health.

“This year is more important than the average year on the topic of influenza,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Every year our hospital systems are strained by the flu, imagine if that happens along with a second surge of COVID-19.”

The health commissioner said that Monroe County partnered with Rochester’s hospital systems in April to coordinate efforts to combat coronavirus. He said that partnership would continue going into flu season as the community works together.

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Dr. Apostolakos applauded the community for taking proactive measures in keeping the infection rate low locally, but says it’s important to keep wearing masks, stressing social distancing, washing hands, and other preventative measures.

“It’s time we double down on the efforts to spread the virus,” Dr. Apostolakos said.

Dr. Apostolakos also said that when a COVID-19 vaccine is developed and approved for use, it can and will be used in tandem, safely, with the flu vaccine. All three health officials reiterated the importance of flu vaccination.

“It’s available to most people, it’s not costly, and it’s often free,” Dr. Mendoza said.

Dr. Mendoza said that on average, about 50% of the local community gets the flu shot. Health officials have warned that a difficult flu season coupled with a COVID-19 surge could limit available resources for the local hospitals. They say that taking the flu shot can help mitigate that risk.

“Managing our resources is important, we have done that this summer, and we’ve shown that we can do that this past summer, and I’m confident we can continue to do that,” Dr. Mayo said.

Officials say that COVID-19 precautions — such as wearing masks, washing hands, and maintaining distance — could help ease the burden of influenza this year. They said some South American nations saw a reduced flu impact because of the COVID-19 measures in place, but they agree the best way to fight the flu, and spread of COVID-19 is to continue what the community has been doing to keep the infection rate relatively low.

“One silver lining about the pandemic is that it’s allowed us to prepare for viral pandemics, but also the flu season,” Dr. Apostolakos said. “We expect to see more patients and we will do what we did with the viral pandemic. I believe that our community will continue to do what they’ve done to protect themselves, their families, and others from viral infections.”

At the end of the flu press conference, the public health commissioner spoke about COVID-19 in schools.

“We never expected we would see zero,” Dr. Mendoza said. “By and large, we’re looking at relatively low numbers. All that we’re seeing so far — so far so good.”

Regarding sports in schools, Dr. Mendoza said he would be meeting with superintendents and athletic directors in the coming weeks.

“I would love to sports, but I want to see sports safely. Fall is sports time for a lot of families, and we have kids in sports, and we long for the days of sitting in the bleachers with our coffee and our warm weather gear, but right now it’s about keeping our kids safe. We don’t want to undermine our chances for sports in the winter or the spring, we don’t want to derail our efforts.”

The health commissioner said indoor sports pose more of a risk than outdoor sports, but health and school officials alike are working together to try to get sports to happen safely. He said that regional travel, such as teams from different counties playing against each other, is difficult to coordinate.

Regarding Halloween, the health commissioner says he is optimistic that trick-or-treating can happen safely this year.

“We’re lucky that our infection rate is relatively low here, and going into Halloween, I think there are ways we can have trick-or-treating — and do so safely,” Dr. Mendoza said.

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

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