The city and several towns have a high enough rate of positive tests for COVID-19 that the state has declared them yellow zones and will institute restrictions.
The order was expected to go into effect later Nov. 9. It will stay until the county falls below a particular level of positive rates for a seven-day rolling average. The rate was 3.4% when the yellow zone was declared.
“This is a wakeup call for our community,” County Executive Adam Bello said Nov. 9 during an online news conference with Monroe County Department of Public Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza.
“We did a great job before,” Bello said of flattening the curve. “We will do it again.”
In addition to Rochester, the order covers Greece, Irondequoit, Webster, Penfield, Perinton, East Rochester, Pittsford, Brighton, Henrietta, Chili and Gates.
In those municipalities, gatherings are limited to 25 people, restaurants and bars must close at midnight and the establishments can seat no more than four people at one table.
Schools that provide in-person learning will have to test 20 percent of students and staff each week until the municipality clears the yellow designation.
Previously, Bello had listed particular ZIP codes as having concerning rates of positive tests. He said using municipal boundaries is a cleaner way to designate the areas.
Yellow is the lowest of three levels – which proceed to orange and red. Each level brings tighter restrictions, including closings businesses deemed nonessential. Bello and Mendoza both said that wearing a mask, maintaining physical distance and frequently washing hands can reduce the rate of infection. They said it worked in the spring and will work now. Doing so, they said, will help keep schools and businesses open.
But if people aren’t going to be responsible, enforcement remains an issue.
Earlier on Nov. 9, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that parts of Monroe County would be designated yellow zone as part of the state’s microcluster approach to hotspots, he criticized local governments across the state for not enforcing existing COVID-19 guidelines.
Unlike with “click it or ticket,” where law enforcement will cite people who aren’t using seatbelts, or speed traps that catch heavy-footed motorists, the county seems unwilling at this point to issue citations to people not wearing masks in public or being close to each other.
“We want to educate and give the benefit of the doubt,” Mendoza said. “We can’t give the benefit of the doubt too often.”
Mendoza said that if the county health department gets complaints, it will contact law enforcement to discuss how to handle the situation. Mendoza said the department has not fined a private individual who hosted a gathering where someone contracted the illness.
The county will field complaints online at email@example.com or through its COVID hotline, (585) 753-5555.
While the yellow zone designates only some areas, Bello and Mendoza said that shouldn’t be seen as permission for people outside those areas to avoid taking precautions. It also shouldn’t be seen as license that if you live in Spencerport, you should hang out in Brockport.
Cuomo acknowledged that New York has stricter requirements than other states for designated hotspots. Nevertheless, Monroe County had among the lowest rates in the nation a few weeks ago.
Bello and Mendoza repeatedly said that actions taken now will affect what happens over Thanksgiving and the December holidays. Mendoza said that many recent cases were traced to gatherings over Halloween. He said that 30% of the 467 cases reported Nov. 7 and 8 were among people ages 20 to 29.