ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza joined the Chief Medical Officers from University Rochester Medical Center and Rochester Regional Health Thursday for a COVID-19 briefing.
“COVID is not yet done with us,” Dr. Mendoza said. “To get past COVID, we need to stand together to stand up to misinformation as a community, because ultimately we rise and fall as a community and we don’t do it on conspiracy theories.”
The county executive announced that Monroe County reported 197 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, the highest single-day increase for the county since early May.
“Just one year ago we reported just 29 new cases,” Bello said. “One year later and we are reporting more than 100 new cases daily, and today we’re reporting 198 new cases. However, our seven-day average for new positive cases in Monroe County stands at 139, so it’s too soon to know if today’s numbers are part of a larger pattern or a one-day blip in the reporting of new cases.”
“We are in a very different place than where we were last year at this time,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Our numbers are considerably higher, we have a new variant, and we are sure we’re going to see more variants. I would also say that we are in a familiar place and in some respects a better place. We are not new to uncertainty and we know more now than what we did last year. Now we have a vaccine, and knowledge, and we need to turn that knowledge into wisdom and into action.”
Daily case numbers are up, as are COVID-19 hospitalizations, which has traditionally been a lagging indicator of coronavirus surges through this stage of the pandemic.
“A few short weeks ago, between Strong and Highland, we had only a handful of COVID patients,” said URMC CMO Dr. Michael Apostolakos. “Today, between the two hospitals, we have more than 45 patients admitted with COVID-19, and the majority of them are unvaccinated.”
“Just under one month ago, Rochester Regional hospitals had four patients with COVID, and now we have 59,” said RRH CMO Dr. Robert Mayo. “This is a significant change in just three weeks. The data that comes across the state and the nation is true right here at home. It is true that people who are vaccinated do much better than people who are unvaccinated.”
While the current situation is fluid and the trends are yet to be determined, the county executive says it’s important to take mitigation into consideration going forward.
“We’re not necessarily in a crisis situation, or in high alert, but it does underscore the need to continue to take precautions we’ve been recommending even if you’re fully vaccinated,” Bello said. “We recommend that you should wear a mask in public indoor settings, regardless of your vaccination status, that you keep gatherings smaller and hold them outside, stay home if you’re sick and be careful and cautious when traveling.”
“The stories of today’s cases tell a familiar tale; indoor family gatherings, travel, kids returning from camp followed by household transmission, gatherings with coworkers indoor,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We can turn this around, and we will. Good decisions now, and especially within two weeks of schools reopening. If you have not yet gotten your vaccine, our community is relying on you to do your research, to speak to a trusted health care provider, and hoping you will get vaccinated so we can enjoy a more normal school year.”
Despite rising case numbers, the county executive said renewing lockdown measures seen in earlier in the pandemic are not actively being discussed locally.
“Right now additional lock down measures or things like that are not under consideration,” Bello said.
The health commissioner said the vaccines are working and unvaccinated people continue to be the most at-risk population in regards to COVID-19.
“The vaccine is clearly working,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Nobody said it would be perfect, but it is definitely working. Of the 125 COVID-19 deaths recorded in Monroe County since March 1, 83% were among people who were not vaccinated, even though the vast majority of them were eligible to be vaccinated at the time. Today in our hospitals, the average age of hospitalized unvaccinated COIVD patients is young, just 48 years old. For the vaccinated COVID-19 patients in hospitals the average age is 75 years old.”
“There is a 10 times higher ratio of unvaccinated patients who are critically ill,” Dr. Mayo said. “Of those on a ventilator, none were vaccinated. This is such an important message for our community.”
With fall on the horizon, and more indoor congregations coming with it, the county executive said he supports policies for masking in schools.
“I believe that is absolutely the right thing to do,” Bello said. “I also believe it’s the best way to ensure students stay in the classroom this year. We’ve seen the damage done in other states where masks are not mandated, places like Florida and Mississippi.”
“We need to remember what we’ve learned and use it,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Use it to keep to keep ourselves, family, and loved ones healthy and safe, and to keep our schools open, and to keep our teachers and frontline health care workers safe.”
On Wednesday, U.S. health officials announced plans to offer COVID-19 booster shots to all Americans to shore up their protection amid the surging delta variant and evidence that the vaccines’ effectiveness is falling.
The plan, as outlined by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other top authorities, calls for an extra dose eight months after people get their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. The doses could begin the week of Sept. 20.
“We will soon have booster shots to ensure every one else can protect themselves and their loved ones,” Dr. Mendoza said.
Regarding high school sports resuming, the health commissioner said in-game activities haven’t proven to be a dangerous source of transmission, but rather the activities that occur on the peripherals of sporting events.
“There really haven’t been much examples of any on-field transmission of COVID between football players,” Dr. Mendoza said. “What we do know is that the off-field events — locker rooms, gatherings, etc. — tend to be more risky. I think each district has a different approach with regards to specifications and players on the field.”
As exhausted as many in the community may be from the ongoing pandemic, the county executive said it’s important that community members remember that we’re in this together.
“I would ask us to be respectful of each other, and respectful of the various opinions,” Bello said. “We’ve been asking for that from the public right from the very beginning and I’ve been delighted that the public has been respectful of that from the beginning.”
Watch the full press briefing
This is a developing story. News 8 WROC will provide updates as they become available.