Adam Bello is hoping that private businesses and other public entities follow the lead of Monroe County, which as of Dec. 1 and until further notice will require anyone coming to a county building to wear a face mask.
The county executive still is asking others nicely, even though on Nov. 30 he declared a state of emergency and a phased approach to combating the rising number of COVID cases.
But if the disturbing trend further threatens the ability of the hospitals to care for COVID and other patients, he said he’d be forced to implement vaccine or test requirement for certain indoor events, escalating to more restrictive measures that he didn’t specify.
“We don’t have to get there,” Bello said during a news conference with Monroe County Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Michael Mendoza and leaders from Rochester Regional Health and UR Medicine. “We do not need to live in a permanent pandemic.”
He said residents do need to get vaccinated and get booster shots if eligible, continue to stay physically distant when necessary and wear masks when that’s not possible.
Asked whether it was time to issue edicts instead of invitations, Bello said, “You don’t manage a public health crisis by just dropping a hammer. We’re taking a phased-in approach. ”
Bello said officials weren’t relying just on hope that residents would do the right thing.
“The county is leading by example,” he said. “We’re calling on local businesses to do the same.”
The county would reinstate a work-from-home policy and hoped other government and private employers would do the same. He urged businesses to require masks for employees who work closely with others.
Bello said he did not want to go back to 2020, when businesses were forced to close. “The impact that that had was enormous on our community. We have different tools available to us today than we had at that point last year.”
Mendoza said thousands of people have been vaccinated in the past few months. The county has yet to supply data on how many people received vaccinations in response to incentives such as $100 gift cards for a completed series.
Holdouts remain. About 25% of Monroe County residents have yet to receive at least one dose. Percentages of unvaccinated are higher in the younger age groups. Only about 8% of people in the 65-74 and 75-84 age groups have yet to receive at least one dose, according to data from the Finger Lakes Vaccine Hub.
The county reported 511 new cases on Nov. 30, and nearly 11,000 cases for the month.
Finger Lakes hospitals have 429 COVID patients, which is stressing their ability to tend to other needs. Rochester Regional and UR Medicine, which have hospitals in several counties, will learn on Friday from the state Department of Health whether they have to postpone elective surgeries.
While some people who’ve been vaccinated are sick, three times as many people who haven’t been vaccinated are in hospitals. Using the rate per 100,000 residents, five times the number of unvaccinated people are in intensive care, and about seven times the number of unvaccinated people are on respirators. Officials said the delta variant is fueling the increased cases.
UR Medicine postponed two elective surgeries on Nov. 30 because it didn’t have capacity to safely care for those individuals, said Dr. Michael Apostolakos, chief medical officer for Strong Memorial and Highland hospitals. “What will happen on Friday will be determined by what happens the rest of this week.. … We will only postpone surgeries that we can safely postpone. My heart goes out to our patients, what we believe medically may be safe to postpone for a week or two to someone else then, um, it’s going to be heart-wrenching for them..”
Apostolakos and Dr. Robert Mayo of Rochester Regional said patients still are being seen in emergency departments, although wait times may be longer. In response, the systems are asking primary care offices to stay open longer.
Bello also announced the county was buying 750,000 rapid test kits. An equitable distribution plan is being developed. It wasn’t known whether the kits would be mailed to households or whether people interested in getting a kit would need to pick one up. The kits have two tests, and he said they could be used by people wanting to attend a party or other gathering.