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City Adjusts Services, Seeks More Tests as State Raises Alert Over Micro-Clusters

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

Mayor Lovely Warren briefs City Council Nov. 23, 2020, about the designation of parts of Rochester being in an orange micro-cluster. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

Libraries are back to curbside pickup, City Hall has reduced hours and some salons and barbers have had to close as much of the city hunkers down for at least 14 days after being designated an orange micro-cluster zone because of rising cases of COVID-19.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren anticipated this when on Nov. 19 she announced changes to City Hall operations.

  • Beginning Nov. 23 and until further notice, City Hall shortened hours from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., at which time the building would be cleaned. Warren also reduced staffing in the buildings to 25%. Staff not on site would work remotely.
  • Self-service drop boxes would remain available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. People should not leave cash in the boxes.
  • People coming to City Hall are required to wear a mask, be screened for their temperature and maintain physical distance while in the building. The entrance is on Fitzhugh Street.

The state dropped the hammer on Nov. 23, putting all of Monroe County under yellow zone status. Certain areas had already been yellow, and some areas of the city and parts of Gates, Brighton and Irondequoit went one level up to orange. The worsening designation came as those areas hit certain levels for percent of positive tests, new cases and hospitalizations.

Information provided with the announcement caused confusion. First it was with exact location of the orange zone and then it was with R-Centers, which initially had closed the learning labs only to find they could stay open.

As for the boundaries of the orange zone, the state had released a map but had not updated its website that lists zones by address. So business owners who checked whether they were affected may have been misinformed. The website, covidhotspotlookup.health.ny.gov/#/home has since been updated.

Warren said the dividing lines between yellow and orange were based on ZIP code as well as the factors about COVID-19 cases. She said Charlotte stayed in the yellow zone.

As for the R-Centers that host learning labs, where students get help with school work, the state said they could stay open. They had been scheduled to close starting Nov. 30.

“In the fast moving environment of this pandemic, we have to be nimble and take the most appropriate action as the information unfolds,” Warren said in a news release Nov. 25. “Our goal is to keep our residents safe and while providing the essential services needed to get through this pandemic.”

Under the direction of the Department of Recreation and Human Services, the R-Center learning labs are open from 8 a.m. to noon. Monday through Friday, when school district staff are on site to help children with homework and other learning needs.

The R-Centers also will serve as meal distribution sites — providing breakfast, lunch and dinner — for all children and their families from 8:30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Open recreation is not available under the state’s orange zone regulations.

In her briefing with City Council, Warren stressed the need for more city residents to be tested – and hopefully test negative, which would drive down the positive rate and help the neighborhoods get back at least to yellow status if not be cleared entirely.

In a briefing Nov. 23 with City Council, Warren said she has talked with county officials and with the superintendent of the Rochester City School District on possibly using schools as sites for rapid tests. She said some sites have been identified but she declined to name them until there was more information.

She said access to tests was crucial, and council member Miguel Melendez asked whether RTS could reroute buses or offer free rides to help get people to the sites.

Deputy Mayor James Smith told City Council that once tests are available it’s important that a steady stream of residents show up over several days. “It’s a little bit complicated. We don’t want to turn people away.”

The state looks at the positive rate as a seven-day rolling average, so having thousands show up on one day and only a trickle over the next few days might not help flatten the curve.

Here are adjustments to city services as a result of the orange designation:

R-Centers hosting learning labs also will double as meal distribution sites starting Nov. 30. Meals will include breakfast, lunch and dinner, and all are available for single trips. All meals are funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and provided by the Food Collaborative (City of Rochester, Rochester City School District, Foodlink and Common Ground Health).

These meal distribution sites will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday:

  • Adams Street, 85 Adams St.
  • Avenue D, 200 Avenue D
  • Carter Street, 500 Carter St.
  • Tyshaun Cauldwell, 524 Campbell St.
  • Edgerton, 41 Backus St.
  • Frederick Douglass, 990 South Ave.
  • David Gantt, 700 North St.
  • Trenton & Pamela Jackson (Clinton-Baden), 485 N. Clinton Ave.
  • Thomas Ryan, 530 Webster Ave.

The Rochester City School District will operate an additional 15 sites at area schools.

The Roc City Skatepark will close.

In-person programs will be suspended at R-Centers, including the Learning Labs; open recreation; fitness centers; pools; sports/rinks; and youth programming. Those with DRHS facilities reservations will have to adhere to a 10-person attendance limit. If you have questions regarding your reservation, contact the Department of Recreation and Human Services permit office at (585) 428-6794 or email mailto:greenl@cityofrochester.gov.

For the latest status on all city operations, go to https://www.cityofrochester.gov/coronavirus/

The restrictions for an orange zone, the middle of the three levels of micro-clusters:

  • Gatherings: Maximum of 10 people for residential and non-residential gatherings, indoors or outdoors
  • Houses of worship: 33% of capacity or 25 people, whichever is less
  • Businesses: Gyms, fitness centers, barber shops, hair salons and personal care services are closed
  • Dining: Limited to outdoor (four-person maximum per table), takeout or delivery. Bars and restaurants close at 10 p.m. for on-premises consumption.
  • Schools: Remote only. Schools and reopen if they follow guidelines for testing.

The red zone prohibits any sort of gathering, shrinks worship attendance to lesser of 25% capacity or 10 people, closes all non-essential businesses and limits dining to takeout and delivery.