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Monroe County Schools Closed as Second Case of COVID-19 is Confirmed

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello, center, at a news conference March 14, 2020, announces the second COVID-19 case. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

All public schools in Monroe County are closed until further notice, according to County Executive Adam Bello after he announced a state of emergency on March 14.

Bello’s announcement came after the second case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the county. The case, in a woman in her 60s, was believed to be picked up in the community.

“After consultation with Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mike Mendoza and the superintendents of all 22 Monroe County School Districts, all Monroe County public schools will be closed to students beginning Monday, March 16 until further notice,” Bello said in statement released a few hours after the news conference announcing the state of emergency.

According to the statement, staff may be asked to report depending on individual district needs.

The closing includes all school-related activities.

Bello wrote that each school district will share more specific information regarding their plans for food, social supports, remote instruction, and other operational procedures with their individual communities.

The Monroe County Health Department and school leaders will be reviewing this on a week-to-week basis – and providing an update by midday Friday.

Bello said the city will be announcing its efforts regarding food distribution and support for children and families on Sunday morning.

During the news conference, Mendoza suggested that closings could be imminent.

He said districts have to consider how long they will close schools, and for what purpose – whether it’s to clean or to remove people to reduce the spread of infection.

He said the timing of a closure may be the most difficult part of the decision. He said decisions have to be made as a community and as families about where children will be safe when not in school, have access to food and other services, and how parents will be able to work. He urged parents to think about what they would do for child care and how they could continue their own jobs.

“We will have further conversations about closing schools, and while we do so, I call on all schools to continue this conversation, to consider all the factors I reviewed here.” he said. Districts should involve parents, community and staff. “Not if, but when we close schools, we do so in a responsible and thoughtful fashion.”

The closures come after a woman with no known recent travel history tested positive on March 13.

Officials said the woman, who is in her 60s, was in stable condition at Unity Hospital in Greece. She works at Arcadia Middle School. Superintendent Kathleen Graupman announced at the news conference that all Greece schools would be closed.

Aware that the news of the second case – which was not related to travel — may have increased anxiety, Bello and Mendoza explained what the county was doing and how the state of emergency allows Bello to devote resources to public safety.

“This is uncharted territory,” Bello said at news conference March 14, about 12 hours after the county learned the woman had tested positive. “As a community, we have never faced something like this in our lifetimes. I understand that people are afraid and unsure about what is going to happen next. That is OK.”

Mendoza and doctors from UR Medicine and Rochester Regional Health reminded the public of precautions – frequent handwashing, coughing or sneezing into a sleeve, not shaking hand, not touching the face and staying home if symptoms of any illness appear.

Health officials said that what’s known now about the virus – and which can change daily – is that it can live on surfaces for up to three days.

Health professionals urge anyone who thinks they have symptoms of the respiratory illness to call their health care provider or the county health department (585-753-5555) first. Health officials said that symptoms can mimic those of a cold or the flu.

“People who think they have COVID-19 need to be screened by a health care professional before going to a doctor’s office, urgent care or emergency room,” said Dr. Michael Apostolakos, chief medical officer at Strong Memorial Hospital. “The vast majority of people with fever and a sore throat do not have COVID-19. With a few screening questions, health professionals can understand risk and whether you need to be tested.”

He said if people need to be tested, there are sites where it can be done without potentially exposing other people.

Testing is not very useful if people do not have symptoms, Mendoza said.

County health officials are investigating how the woman contracted novel coronavirus. Officials said she reported attending St. Josaphat’s Church in Irondequoit on March 1 and began feeling unwell on March 4. She worked March 5 and 6, and she reported to the health department that she had mild symptoms.

Health department teams are interviewing people who had contact with her throughout that time. Mendoza said that process takes time.

The first case in Monroe County was reported March 12 in a man who traveled to Italy. He took a bus from New York City home to Rochester. Health officials have interviewed several people who disembarked in Rochester, and are seeking four others who rode Greyhound No. 252 that arrive in Rochester on the morning of March 10.

Here are sources for accurate updates about COVID-19:

  • Monroe County Department of Public Health www2.monroecounty.gov/health-coronavirus. If you don’t have a doctor, call (595) 753-5555 or email COVID19@monroecounty.gov
  • New York state Department of Health www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/coronavirus or call (888)364-3065
  • UR Medicine www.urmc.rochester.edu/coronavirus.aspx or call (888) 928-0011.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/index.html