ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza gave an update on the coronavirus pandemic in Monroe County Thursday.
This briefing kicked off a new weekly series of virtual briefings with media where the two public officials will provide regular updates on the status of the county’s COVID-19 response efforts, as well as ways to keep residents safe.
Citing a New York Times study, County Executive Bello said that Monroe County has the lowest rate of COVID-19 cases in the country, for communities with more than 500,000 people. Still the County Executive says it’s important that residents stay the course that has led to that relative success.
“I encourage the community, especially as we continue through the fall and into the winter, to remain vigilant, to not give up on the protocols that have gotten us to this point,” Bello said.
“The reality is we’ve come along way and we have a long way to go,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We are doing very well, we are doing among the best. We are at the top, and I want to stay there.”
On the perception of cases rising locally, the health commissioner attributed that to an increase in local testing.
“We’ve seen new cases go up recently in the past few weeks, but that’s mainly attributed to an increase in testing locally,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We’re essentially doing greater surveillance in the community as a result of all this testing and I think that shows when you look at the overall testing numbers going up, but the actual percentage of those tests that are positive is holding steady for now. So I think we’re detecting those cases that have been around all along that we’re now only becoming aware of because we’re testing more.”
The health commissioner said that the virus spreads in isolated clusters, and it’s important to be mindful of everyday practices, such as carpooling.
“We had a very large cluster, that we’re still investigating now, that we thought might have been related to the workplace, but the link was actually that many of the people in this community were carpooling,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Be thoughtful about how you carpool. It does put one at a greater risk in a COVID perspective.”
In regards to nursing homes, the health commissioner says it has been an issue since the beginning of the pandemic, mostly for staff, and the health department continues to monitor these facilities closely.
“Here in Monroe County the largest liability in nursing homes is actually the staff,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We know that the staff was the reason for introduction in nursing homes earlier. We’ve been very careful, that’s why we’re testing all staff at least once a week.”
With the holidays looming, the health commissioner said the county would be releasing guidance on family and social gatherings.
“We are working on guidance here in the health department, that we hope to issue in early November, that describes just that — how can we look at travel in the coming holidays and how can we do so safely?” Dr. Mendoza said. “The reality is it’s important for us to reconnect, but we want to make sure we do so safely. A lot of our guidance will hinge on where we are in November and December.”
Dr. Mendoza said he doesn’t think a vaccine will be widely available anywhere in the U.S. by the end of the year or even in the first six months of 2021. He said he will only endorse a vaccine in our community when he knows for sure it is safe and effective. He said he will look at trial data to make that determination when the time comes.
The health commissioner warned that flu season poses a threat to hospital capacity, and he urged residents to get the flu shot as soon as they can.
“It’s currently October 15 and we really haven’t begun the flu season here in Monroe County and most years we do see cases by now,” Dr. Mendoza said. “The most important guidance I can offer is make sure you get your flu shot because that is what we can control about the influenza numbers here in Monroe County.”
The health commissioner said, for the most part, schools have done a good job at keeping safety precautions in place. He says the real concern is gatherings and travel.
“It’s those gatherings in our backyards, in our homes, in the community — that’s what has been the greatest risk, even on college campuses,” Dr. Mendoza said. “It’s not attributed to being at school, it’s the social gatherings that happen outside of school.”
Regarding Thursday’s update, Monroe County Department of Public Health reported 52 new COVID-19 cases, two new deaths, 37 hospitalizations and seven in the ICU.
If you’re interested in getting a COVID-19 test, you can find more information about how to do so online.
Check back with News 8 WROC as we continue to update this developing story.