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Memorial Day Weekend Tests Resolve to Wear Mask, Stay 6 Feet Apart

Patti Singer

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren talks about the need to protect your circle with good choices during COVID-19 and over Memorial Day Weekend. Video by Patti Singer Media for Minority Reporter Media Group

Memorial Day – the unofficial start to summer, which this year promises to be different from any other.

While families and friends wonder whether they can place a flag at a headstone or host a barbecue, health officials worry about what happens if they do.

“It’s giving me concern,” said Dr. Michael Mendoza, commissioner of the Monroe County Department of Public Health.

If the days after Memorial Day are like those after Mother’s Day, expect an increase in cases of COVID-19.

Dr. Michael Mendoza in a Zoom news conference May 19, 2020. Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

“We know that by our contact tracing, we’ve identified a number of positives who’ve disclosed to us they had an event on Mother’s Day or they had a gathering of some kind the weekend prior to that,” he said. “We’re hearing about this from an anecdotal perspective. I have to assume that we’re not always getting the full picture when we talk to people who are positives. There’s an inherent bias toward nondisclosure when … there’s the potential for being judged.”

Monroe County reported its highest number of positive tests – 94 – on May 15. Monroe County reports the total of the day the tests come back to the county – that doesn’t mean all those people tested positive on the same day. But with an incubation period for COVID-19 of up to 14 days, some of those individuals may have exposed at a gathering.

From May 11-18, more children and teens have tested positive than in any other previous seven-day period. Mendoza said many of them are contacts of adults who tested positive for COVID-19. “These are family members,” he said.

There also have been steady numbers of women in their 20 and 30s testing positive for the virus. Mendoza said women in those age ranges may be essential workers, and that there is an overrepresentation of younger women in health care.

The county has seen an increase in positive COVID-19 cases in the past few days — 94 tests were positive on May 15 — due in part to an increase in testing capacity, broadened state guidelines of who can be tested and increased efforts to test known contacts of previously positive cases. Mendoza said the county has taken proactive measures to increase testing in at-risk settings in an effort to identify cases in the early stages of infection and minimize spread of COVID-19.

Aware that people may be tempted to get together over the upcoming weekend, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has recommended gatherings be limited to 10 people.

County Executive Adam Bello said at a separate news conference that it is important to honor the sacrifice of loved ones and that attendance at a memorial site or a cemetery can be done respectfully with physical distancing and wearing masks.

At a news conference May 20, Mayor Lovely Warren and Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary said they will continue to educate people on the need to follow the safety guidelines. Singletary said that foot patrols will be at the beaches and wherever officers see groups, they will remind them about the need to stay apart and wear a face covering.

The mayor said that throughout the city, some people have been seen to gather and not wear masks. She said reminders will be issued across the board. Singletary said that people are not being ticketed.

Mendoza acknowledged the impatience, fatigue and questioning around the need to stay physically distant and wear a mask. “I think that’s understandable. What we’re trying to motivate is different behavior. … It takes on average 21 days before someone takes a change in behavior and it becomes a habit. I’m not sure we’re 21 days into some of these interventions. We’ve got keep at it.”

Mendoza said the county has increased testing, mostly with people who have symptoms. As a result, tests are more likely to come back positive. Asked to estimate how many people in Monroe County have been exposed to the virus, Mendoza said it’s hard to know without a reliable antibody test. Based on what is known, he estimated 3% of the population may have been infected. But not everyone infected had or will have serious illness.