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Mendoza Pledges to Answer Residents’ Questions About COVID Vaccine

Patti Singer

Dr. Michael Mendoza, commissioner of the Monroe County Department of Public Health. File photo

Monroe County’s top doctor said he knows that not everyone is as excited as he is to get a vaccine to thwart COVID-19.

“There are many people in Monroe County who still are uncertain or have fear, and rightfully so because this process to develop and distribute this vaccine has been like no other in the history of vaccines,” said Dr. Michael Mendoza, commissioner of the Monroe County Department of Public Health.

To the people who are fearful and skeptical, regardless of where they live or their race and ethnicity, Mendoza made a promise:

“I pledge to you today that my job until the end of this pandemic is to help you to understand all the things you need to understand. To have you ask and I’ll answer all the questions in one form or another so you can make the best decisions for yourself, your loved ones and your family.”

Mendoza made that vow Dec. 18 during the weekly COVID-19 news conference conducted with County Executive Adam Bello. Two days earlier, Bello and Mendoza announced formation of the vaccination task force to develop public education about the vaccines and ensure fair, equitable distribution for when they become widely available. That last part may not happen until summer. But the communication piece already has started.

Wade Norwood, chief executive of Common Ground Health, is a co-leader of the task force along with Dr. Nancy Bennett, former deputy county health commissioner. Common Ground Health will collect questions at

Here is a summary from the news conference:

Finger Lakes loses ground: A few months ago, the region was touted as having among the lowest rates of COVID-19 infection in the nation. Now, as New York measures the threat of the disease by hospitalization rate, the Fingers Lakes looks bad.

As of Dec. 17, it had the highest rate of COVID hospitalization as a percentage of its population. The region still had about 25% of hospital beds available. When a region gets down to 10% of available beds, it can be designated a red zone, which means widespread shutdown of businesses.

As to why the region is struggling, Mendoza said that the early success in limiting spread meant that a larger proportion of the population remained vulnerable. The hospitalization numbers reflect the seriousness of the disease in many of the people who contracted the virus. Mendoza and Bello said the hospitalizations are a reminder to wear a mask and stay physically distant in order to protect people at severe risk of complications from even being exposed.

Nursing homes: Cases among people in their 80s and 90s have been in double digits every day from Dec. 10-18. Mendoza said most of the recent deaths have been among people ranging from their 70s to 90s. Some have been residents of nursing homes. Nursing homes are regulated by the state health department, but Mendoza said he will advocate on behalf of the homes and their residents in Monroe County.

“I want to make sure in the nursing homes we learn from what we experienced in April and May, emphasizing proper use of (personal protective equipment), making sure they have the supplies necessary.” He said it’s also crucial that the homes make sure staff abides by quarantines and that they avoid unnecessary gathering in their homes.

“I am very concerned about this because we don’t want to see a replay of what we saw in April and May,” he said.

Potential Christmas spike: Recent data have shown that the increase in the number of cases locally and statewide is in large part from in-home gatherings. Locally, the increase began after Halloween and has continued. Bello said that even though there was not an exponential spike after Thanksgiving, numbers went in the wrong direction.

“We do need to have a course correction,” he said, again reminding people to wear masks, keep a distance and regularly wash their hands.

In other COVID-19 news, the city announced it will distribute masks at the R-Centers where students are picking up meals.

Beginning Dec. 22, R-Center staff will begin distributing kits that have a 2-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer and three masks. City residents who are not seeking meals can get a kit. The kits are limited to one per family per day.

“The fight against COVID-19 is very real and we must remain diligent in our efforts to contain it,” Mayor Lovely Warren said in a news release.

PPE kits will be distributed at the following R-Center meal distribution sites from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday:

  • Adams Street, 85 Adams St.
  • Avenue D, 200 Ave. D
  • Tyshaun Cauldwell, 524 Campbell St.
  • Frederick Douglass, 999 South Ave.
  • David Gantt, 700 North St.
  • Edgerton R-Center, 41 Backus St.
  • Trenton & Pamela Jackson (Clinton-Baden), 485 N. Clinton Ave.
  • Thomas Ryan, 530 Webster Ave.