Sunrise Smart Start: Thursday, December 23

Sunrise Smart Start

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Stay up to date on the latest headlines in today’s Sunrise Smart Start on Thursday, December 23, 2021.


Officials from the Monroe County Department of Public Health reported 754 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, and said the Omicron variant had officially arrived.

“Today, the highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19 was detected in Monroe County by researchers at UR Medicine Labs laboratory,” Monroe County Executive Adam Bello said in a statement.

The county is now averaging 479 new cases per day over the past seven days. Monroe County also reported a seven-day rolling average positivity rate of 7.4%.

According to the New York State Department of Health, 502 people in the Finger Lakes region were hospitalized with the virus, including 138 in an ICU.

Bello released the following statement Wednesday night, saying in part:

These results underscore the need for residents to keep following common sense guidelines throughout the holiday season to protect themselves and their loved ones.

Vaccination remains our top protection against serious illness and hospitalization from COVID, and boosters are especially important to help protect against Omicron.

“These next few weeks and potentially months will by trying and highly dynamic, with things changing at a moment’s notice.” Ontario County Administrator Chris DeBolt said.

Last week, Ontario joined Livingston and Wyoming as local counties to announce they would not be enforcing the state’s new vax or mask mandate.

Ontario County Administrator DeBolt issued a statement last week, saying the county does not have sufficient staff to enforce an indoor mask mandate.

DeBolt said Wednesday that an inability to enforce, is not an endorsement to not mask.

“Ontario County’s inability to effectively enforce the governor’s mask mandate — I didn’t intend to imply that masking isn’t important,” Debolt said. “It is important to protect yourself and everyone around you. Don’t wear a mask just for yourself, do it for your community.”

“We never said we didn’t support the mask mandate,” Marren said. “We said we didn’t have the resources to enforce it.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on December 10 that due to rising COVID-19 rates statewide, masks will be required to be worn in all indoor public places unless businesses or venues implement a vaccine requirement.

“I struggle to wrap my head around a realistic situation of enforcing it,” DeBolt said. “our best effort would be to go out there and give residents in this community the reasons to why it is so important to mask up. We didn’t adopt it or not adopt it.”

According to the New York State Department of Health, the Finger Lakes region has 502 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized, including 138 in an ICU. According to the Ontario County Department of Public Health Tuesday, 44 of those 502 regional patients are from Ontario County.

“We had a crisis last week,” Stapleton said. “Our ER is built for 24 people and we had 44. We had 19 patients for beds we didn’t have here. When we called the state for help, the closest available bed was in Orange County, and that is the picture.

“To sum it up: We can safely care for our community, but that is being threatened,” Stapleton said. “We are pleading with the community to get their vaccine. Not because someone told you too, but for your community.”

According to the NYSDOH dashboard, Ontario County posted a 12.9% positivity rate on 490 COVID-19 tests Wednesday and the county is averaging 64.5 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past week. For reference, Monroe County is averaging 51.5 for the same metric.

“It’s pretty scary going into the holiday,” Beer said. “The numbers we’ve experienced the past month are the highest they have ever been. 144 residents won’t be gathering with their family this season.”

If you recall the Grape Street arson fire in 2012, Waltquaries Evans of Rochester survived it by jumping out of a second story window, officials say.

In 2012, Evans was just 15-years-old having a sleepover with friends at their house on Grape Street, when a fire broke out. Officials say the mother of those children admitted to an intentional act that started the fire.

Four of her six children died that day, but Evans survived miraculously.

“It was a very public and very tragic event,” said Paul Schwartzman, Executive Director of Finger Lakes Burn Association. “The mom was arrested and convicted and imprisoned.”

Schwartzman runs the Finger Lakes Burn Association, an agency providing services and clinical support to burn survivors, like Evans, or ‘Junior’, as he was known by. 

Schwartman’s message to the public, is to be compassionate — you never know what trauma someone carries with them each day.

And to burn survivors out there: there is help, and a community waiting for you.

Police have arrested Derrick Gunter, as the shooting suspect in Evans’ homicide. The case is moving to a grand jury.

Police believe Evans was having an argument with a person near School 17 before this shooting took place.

Pittsford Central School District officials announced Wednesday that schools will be closed Thursday to due staffing issues.

Leaders say the staffing issues are due to current openings and illness, particularly in the transportation department.

The Thursday closure will lead into Pittsford’s winter break and in person learning is scheduled to resume Monday, January 3.

Officials from Pegula Sports and Entertainment, the company that owns the Buffalo Bills and Sabres, and manages the Blue Cross Arena, announced an updated vaccination policy Wednesday morning.

Officials say all guests ages 5-11 will now be required to provide proof of at least one dose of vaccination for entry into all events at the Blue Cross Arena, Highmark Stadium, or the KeyBank Center.

Per Blue Cross officials, and in accordance with New York’s current mandate, guests will not be required to wear masks once they gain entry because it is vaccinated guests only.

Officials say guests cannot present a photo of a physical vaccine card, adding that negative test results will not be accepted for entry.

The Blue Cross Arena already required proof of vaccination for guests ages 12 and up since late September, as did the Bills and Sabres.

Lake bands will taper after Thursday morning, giving way to a brief dry spell Thursday before more light snow returns late. Freezing temperatures will remain with us Thursday as Friday gets a little warmer.

The Weekend: Saturday will unfortunately not be snowy. Santa is expected to experience some rainfall on his way into Rochester for delivery. Sunday will be brighter with slight drizzles and temps in the 40s.

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