ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza held a briefing Tuesday to update the community on COVID-19 locally.
Cases have been surging in recent weeks as the delta variant has become the dominant strain in the U.S. Officials from the Monroe County Department of Public Health reported 93 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday.
“Exactly one year ago, on August 10, 2020, we reported 20 new cases of COVID-19,” Bello said. “Only three of those cases involved young people, none of whom were under the age of 10. What a difference a year makes. Over the past week, 118 of our young people were diagnosed with COVID-19, and nearly half of them were under the age of 10.”
“We are in a very different place than where we were last year at this time,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We had hoped that warm weather, being outdoors, plus available safe and effective vaccines would make this summer feel pretty close to normal. The reality is that it’s not.”
Despite the surge, the health commissioner says other nations with comparable vaccination rates, which underwent delta spread before the U.S., have seen some promising results regarding a plateau and/or decline.
“Most of the experience that we’re learning from across the country and across the globe suggests that the delta variant may not last very long, so hopefully we can get through this shorter surge,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Perhaps we’ll start the year off in a better place than we are in right now, that’s certainly everybody’s hope, but the reality is we’re learning something new every day. We have to stay prepared. The best that we can do is take control over the things we can control and that is getting a vaccine, wearing our masks, and understanding the precautions that we all know how to take, and doing everything we can to keep our kids safe.”
Local COVID trends
The county is now averaging 110 new cases per day over the past week. Monroe County now has a seven-day rolling average positivity rate of 4.2%. That’s the county’s highest average positivity rate since January 28.
“My team has seen a few trends lately,” Dr. Mendoza said. “First, a significant percentage of the new cases — 10% or more — can be connected to travel to Florida, or to visitors who have come here from Florida to say with family or friends in Rochester.
“We’re also seeing a lot of transmission in small workplaces,” Dr. Mendoza. “People are coming to work with symptoms and spreading it among their coworkers. And much of the transmission is happening in households. A child may be exposed to COVID at camp, and then we see that child’s whole family tests positive a few days later. We’ve seen these patterns before and we need to think back to what we’ve learned before in order to get through this new phase of the pandemic.”
The health commissioner said it’s important for people to consider pros and cons when planning gatherings, as well as resuming COVID-19 testing — even if you’re vaccinated.
“Really think about your gatherings with family and friends, especially larger gatherings like weddings and reunions,” Dr. Mendoza said. “While testing is no longer required, it is never a bad idea to consider testing in addition to vaccination and masking.”
County officials say COVID-19 deaths will be reported weekly on Mondays. To date, 1,351 Monroe County residents have died from COVID-19.
According to the New York State Department of Health, 73 people in the Finger Lakes region were hospitalized with the virus, and 15 are in the ICU. The number of regional hospitalizations are the highest since June 12.
“Public health experts across the nation are raising the alarms about the surge in COVID hospitalizations among children, and most of them are too young to receive the vaccine,” Bello said. “That is what we have to consider as we’re preparing to reopen our schools for five days per week.”
“Our youngest kids are not vaccinated and they are still vulnerable,” Dr. Mendoza said. “The work is just beginning and we are excited to get along with this school year, but in order to do so we need to take all of the steps possible that we can to keep all of our community, especially our kids, healthy and safe.”
Dr. Mendoza says the region’s hospitals are “nowhere near as full as they were at the peak of COVID,” but added that is not a luxury that should be taken advantage of.
Regarding schools, Dr. Mendoza said the health department would offer public health guidance, but not issue mandates.
“I can’t give advice and guidance on how to operate a school,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Our role is to offer public health measures. Whether we mandate it or recommend it, the reality is that wearing a mask is a very good idea.”
The health commissioner echoed a similar sentiment for Monroe County businesses.
“I’m not in a position to mandate anything for businesses,” Dr. Mendoza said. “My goal is to provide education, clarity, and give advice from a health standpoint, and then let policy makers determine what level of implementation is necessary. I believe our community knows what to do. The hard part is that we need to remind ourselves that we’ve got to do it all over again to some degree.”
As of the Monroe County COVID-19 dashboard’s last local vaccination update Monday, 438,716 county residents are fully vaccinated and 465,057 have received at least one dose of the vaccine — 62.6% of the county population.
“The leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic, and make in-person learning for all of our students possible, plus extracurricular activities and sports as safe as possible for our children, is vaccination,” Bello said. “If you’re eligible to be vaccinated, I urge you to do so now. While our vaccination numbers are good when compared to many other parts of the country, they’re not yet high enough to keep the highly contagious delta variant from circulating in our community.”
As the delta surge of new COVID-19 cases continues, more and more local businesses begin to require masks or vaccine verification for entry,
“We want our businesses to follow the guidance that keeps them in business,” Dr. Mendoza said. “My belief is that a business that provides for the health and safety of their customers is going to be a heavily patroned business.”
Gov. Cuomo resignation
To begin the briefing, the county executive addressed the resignation of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which the governor announced Tuesday.
“Gov. Cuomo’s decision today to step down was the right thing to do, particularly given the seriousness of the attorney general’s report,” Bello said. “The governor had lost the confidence of the people of the State of New York and his partners in government. This move and action today allows the state to move forward. I am grateful for the courageous women who came forward to expose this behavior, and to ensure that a person in that position of extraordinary power is held accountable.
“I have known Lt. Gov. Hochul for a decade now and have full faith and confidence in her ability to lead our state forward,” Bello said. “Once sworn in, she will be the first woman to serve as governor, the highest office in the State of New York. Lt. Gov. Hochul is a thoughtful leader who knows the issues that impact Upstate New York very well. She has served on every level government, from local, to county, to state, and to federal, and I look forward to working with her on behalf of all of Monroe County’s residents.”
Back in 2016, Cuomo appointed Bello to become Monroe County Clerk, to fill the vacancy left by Cheryl Dinolfo becoming county executive.
Watch the full pres conference
This is a developing story. News 8 WROC will provide updates as they become available.