As cases of COVID-19 increase, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello urged everyone who does not have an essential role to play in health care or in keeping the community safe to please stay home.
“I’d like to start by asking every business owner, every community organization and anyone listening, if you are not providing an essential function to help the people in this community, such as providing food, gas and health care, I’m asking you to please send your employees home and it’s time to start practicing social distancing,” Bello said at a news conference March 18.
The county recorded its first death related to COVID-19 on March 17.
Bello announced he was closing nonessential county functions and that staff that was able to would work from home. Access to county buildings would be limited to essential staff, and they would have their temperatures taken before they would be let in.
“This isn’t about the vast majority of people who if they got the virus and became sick would be OK,” Bello said. “This is about the most vulnerable people in our community and making sure we protect them from the spread of this disease.”
As of 4 p.m. March 18, the county had 19 confirmed cases, five of which were new from the day before. Five of the 19 were hospitalized and one, a patient at Rochester General Hospital and also an employee there, had died.
The news conference was the first one that Bello held online, and reporters dialed in to ask questions. That will be the new normal for as long as COVID-19 is in the community.
Bello and Dr. Michael Mendoza, commissioner of the Monroe County Department of Public Health, stressed the importance of social distancing – a phrase unheard of a month ago and now likely to become a permanent in everyone’s vocabulary.
Staying away from others is seen by health experts as a way to lessen – mitigate – the spread of the novel coronavirus. Social distancing is seen as important, if not moreso in some instances, than medical equipment in dealing with COVID-19.
“Mitigation is how we decrease the overall need for those high intensity services,” Mendoza said in response to a question about whether there were enough hospital beds and ventilators in case people became very ill. … I would implore all my neighbors and friends and colleagues to take the notion of social distancing extremely seriously.””
Mendoza said that 80% of people who contract COVID-19 will have mild symptoms. Some of those symptoms could mimic a cold or seasonal allergy. Mendoza said that a person with any symptoms of a respiratory ailment should stay home. By doing so, they protect the other 20% for whom the illness could have dire consequences.
“Mitigation is how we pace the needs,” he said. “If we rely only on hospital beds and the ICU, that is not the right approach. We need an all hands on deck approach. We need to rely on one another to make the right decision, to be very thoughtful about how their actions may be impacting other people, and prioritize people who are at risk. That’s how we get through this.”
Mendoza said he has heard reports of people who were supposed to be in quarantine being out in the community. There were 142 people in mandatory quarantine.
The terms quarantine and isolation are seemingly interchangeable. Mendoza said quarantine refers to someone at risk from an epidemiological standpoint but who are not showing symptoms.
If they do, they are put into the higher category of isolation, which refers to symptomatic people who are confirmed to have COVID-19 or who have a test pending. It also refers to people being treated as though they have COVID-19, until the test shows otherwise.
As for testing, Mendoza said the demand has spiked. He said the health department is putting a priority on the specimens of people who may be at greater risk from the illness.
As a result of contact tracing of confirmed cases, the health department is testing eight people on March 18.
As for the individual who died, he had underlying health conditions, including high blood pressure, liver disease and a history of tobacco use.
After being stabilized and discharged from the emergency department at Rochester General on March 13, he returned 18 hours later in respiratory distress, according to Dr. Kevin Casey, president of RGH.
The man worked in environment services, and Casey said it was emotional for the team who provided his care. Casey said the man was the first case of COVID-19 at RGH and it is believed he acquired the virus in the community.
According to the health department, an RTS Access bus operator is among those who tested positive for COVID-19 on March 16. The last contact with passengers was on March 3. The Monroe County Department of Public Health is contacting those passengers, but Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza indicates they are no longer at risk due to the time lapse and they are not being placed into quarantine.