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Increase in COVID Cases Prompts Mask, Vaccine Policies for County, Health Care Workers

Patti Singer

In the first wave of COVID-19 in spring of 2020, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello showed how to make a homemade mask. Now with the variant causing cases to rise, Bello again wants residents to wear masks. For some, it’s not a suggestion but a rule. File photo

As a result of increased cases of COVID-19 in Monroe County, officials are recommending that all residents wear masks when indoors in public places.

For some, though, masks are not a suggestion.

Starting Aug. 3, all county employees must wear masks or face coverings in public and in common areas in all county-run facilities.

Furthermore, health care workers employed by the county and by Rochester Regional Health or UR Medicine will need to be vaccinated by Sept. 8 or undergo frequent and regular COVID-19 testing.

The announcements from Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza came Aug. 2, after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added the county to the category of substantial COVID transmission.

According to the CDC, areas with substantial transmission record 50 to 100 cases per 100,000, or they record a positivity rate between 8% and 10%. As of Aug. 1, the CDC data reported Monroe County’s rate at 50.02 per 100,000 people. On July 30, the county had reported a total of 60 new cases, continuing an upward trend.

“As we continue to follow CDC guidance, and in order to slow spread, we’re strongly recommending all Monroe County residents wear a face mask when indoors, where we know the virus spreads even greater,” Bello said in a news release.

Meanwhile, Bello, Mendoza and the leaders of Rochester’s health systems announced the vaccine-or-test policy. The requirement covers workers at Monroe Community Hospital, the county health department and RRH, the University of Rochester Medical Center, the University of Rochester and UR Medicine affiliates.

Wade Norwood, chief executive officer of Common Ground Health and co-chair of the Finger Lakes COVID-19 Task Force, said the announcement builds on work being done to promote vaccine equity and access across the community. He said the county and the largest employers are taking steps to “encourage people to become vaccinated or adhere to enhanced precautions designed to keep everyone safe.”

Details vary slightly at each employer, but here are the basics:

  • Employees will be required to document their COVID vaccine status–vaccinated, choosing not to be vaccinated, approved medical exemption or approved religious exemption.
  • Soon after Sept. 8, unvaccinated employees will be required to undergo frequent regular COVID testing, to wear masks indoors and practice social distancing at work.
  • Employees who decline to report their status or to undergo testing will face discipline.
  • Employees vaccinated after Sept. 8 can be released from the testing, masking and distancing requirements once their fully vaccinated status is documented with the employer.

“Our primary responsibility is to protect the health and safety of our community, and science shows us that getting vaccinated is the most important step we can take at this stage of the pandemic,” Mendoza said in a news release. “The vaccines are safe and effective against serious illness, hospitalization and death caused by COVID-19, and they are the key to eradicating this threat once and for all.”

Dr. Mark B. Taubman, University of Rochester senior vice president of Health Sciences and URMC chief executive officer, said the staff vaccination program will be implemented across the university and at all UR Medicine affiliates — including six hospitals, two nursing homes and UR Medicine Home Care.

Dr. Robert Mayo, executive vice president and chief medical officer at Rochester Regional Health, said, “As healthcare workers, it is our responsibility to enhance the lives and preserve the health of the community.”