Sunrise Smart Start: Tuesday, January 4

Sunrise Smart Start

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Stay up to date on the latest headlines in today’s Sunrise Smart Start on Tuesday, January 4, 2022.

Gov. Kathy Hochul hosted a COVID-19 briefing Monday morning from SUNY Brockport’s Rochester Educational Opportunity Center facility downtown.

“We are not in a good place,” Gov. Hochul said. “I’ll be honest with you. This is the winter surge we were expecting. There’s a lot of human interactions, and what happens they they interact? They spread the virus.”

Although new case rates are at their highest levels to date, the governor said early evidence suggests that omicron strain doesn’t cause as severe of illness as previous variants.

“People are testing positive at a higher rate, but the severity of this variant is much less,” Gov. Hochul said. “I am grateful that a month later, we can say with certainty, that the cases are presenting themselves to not be that severe as far as health goes.”

The governor said the updated its guidelines pertaining to isolation and quarantine length for “critical workforce” employees who test positive for the virus and for those exposed, if they are vaccinated and not showing symptoms.

She did not, however, say the state would adopt new CDC guidance that pertains to the general public, regardless of vaccination or employment status.

The New York State Department of Health clarified later Monday to News 8 that the governor was referring to the guidance on health care workers instead.

The governor said the state has adopted those guidelines with the one change being that the reduced time in quarantine is for vaccinated individuals.

“We adopted that statewide, we did that last week,” Gov. Hochul said.

Still some county leaders, like those locally in Monroe County, said they would not be adopting the new CDC guidance at this time.

Additionally, the governor said testing sites would soon launch at SUNY campuses, and other colleges like Syracuse University, to help alleviate the high demand currently for testing.

“The battle plan is clear and we all have a role to play,” Gov. Hochul said. “I am not saying this pandemic will go away, but how we’re managing it: We are protecting our kids, our businesses and our health for residents.”

Rochester Mayor Malik Evans discussed objectives for the first weeks of his term and immediate short term goals.

“In this administration, we will have every intention of operating with the spirit of transparency so we can build trust with the community.”

The mayor expressed his condolences for what he described as a “double tragedy” for the Leadership Academy for Young Men, a Rochester City School District school.

Two students of that school died this weekend: 14-year-old Julius Greer Jr. was shot and killed in the area of North Street and Herald Street and 17-year-old Derrick Watson died of COVID Saturday, school officials announced.

The mayor called on community members with knowledge of crime to come forward with that information.

“Someone knows who shot a 14-year-old,” Evans said. “There is someone who knows that, and they have to come forward, anonymously. This mother deserves justice for her baby. If you know something, say something. There is no honor in silence that leads to death. We should not be starting off 2022 with tragedy like this.”

While the mayor acknowledged that the pandemic and violence remain of immediate concern, he said other issues are still being worked on, including filling city appointments, city court operations, the proposed UBI pilot program, the RASE commission, and more.

“Rochester has been on the verge of greatness for too long,” Evans said. “We are so close to a tipping point, and when that moment of opportunity takes over it creates our own opportunity, but we can’t just sit back and wait.”

County officials report COVID-19 deaths weekly on Mondays. The 38 deaths reported Monday happened between December 15 and December 29. To date, 1,606 Monroe County residents have died from COVID-19.

County officials say 1,171 new cases were discovered Monday (781 lab-confirmed, 390 at-home), 1,836 on Saturday, and 1,339 on Sunday. The county says Monday’s results are likely an undercount due to delays from the holiday weekend.

Officials say due to the holiday weekend there is a “significant delay” in the reporting of test results and that Monday’s update does “not accurately reflect the total number of new cases,” and those new cases will be included in later reports throughout the week.

The county is now averaging 1,576 new cases per day over the past week. Monroe County now has a seven-day rolling average positivity rate of 17.4%.

It was back to school Monday after more than a week off for the holidays. It also meant serious concerns over the health and well-being of students and teachers.  

Leaders feel RCSD is not properly staffed on many campuses since teachers are calling in sick, and some teachers already have more than half their students on quarantine. 

“I now am teaching 2/3 of my class the new lessons and I am not set up to teach the same to the 1/3 or more of my students that are home,” local fifth grade teacher Jason Valenti said. 

“The KN95 masks which are effective won’t be distributed until at the earliest Tuesday,” RTA President Urbanski said. “So today you run a huge risk knowing most students are not vaccinated. That is a recipe for disaster.” 

At some schools, a significant number of teachers didn’t come in due to COVID-19 concerns. Forcing other staff to step in and teach multiple classes to fill vacancies.  

Both RTA and Teachers agree in-person learning is the better way for students to learn, but only if classrooms can be properly staffed and a well-organized plan to keep campuses safe which they feel the district doesn’t have.  

“I would like to see my district listen to the school members, the staff, the principals, the teachers and the families to see what each building needs,” Valenti said. “Then get he resources out to those places so we can do our jobs.”

Democrat Sabrina LaMar cut a deal with the GOP that gave her the top leadership role in exchange for a move that will allow Republicans to maintain their majority rule, which comes with a host of perquisites that includes staffing appointments.

The Republicans and LaMar will also have the power to set the legislature’s agenda.

“I intend to rise above partisan politics and instead choose to be a bridge between ‘politics as usual’ and getting things done, which is exactly what my constituents want — they want someone who can get beyond petty political bickering and deliver results,” LaMar said in a statement.

The primary election upended that group as voters tossed out most of its members, but LaMar remained and when Democrats secured 15 seats over the Republicans 14, Lamar picked up enough leverage to craft this power-sharing agreement with the GOP.

Lamar was voted in as president 15-14 with all 14 Republicans voting for her and all 14 Democrats voting against.

With that, she becomes the first Black woman to lead the legislature.

A frigid morning of 20s will transform to a comfortable evening of upper 30s with some sun Tuesday.

Wednesday will also bring warm air with temperatures expected to sit slightly below 40 degrees ahead of a cold front. Although some flurries will drop tomorrow, this weekend will prove to be the real deal of snow.

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