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Uptick in COVID Cases Causes County to Resume Regular Reports

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

Dr. Michael Mendoza, commissioner of the Monroe County Department of Public Health, during a Zoom news conference July 27, 2021. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

Concerted efforts to bring COVID-19 vaccine to where people live have lifted rates in some city ZIP codes, but immunization still lags in certain areas.

Overall in the county, the number of cases is creeping up and officials say the increase is among unvaccinated individuals.

The increase is relatively low, according to Monroe County Executive Adam Bello. But it caught enough of his attention that the health department as of July 27 is back to posting daily numbers – something it hadn’t done in about a month – and held the first media briefing in about the same span.

The county reported 53 new cases in a one-day tally after having reported 222 for the week of July 19-26.

Dr. Michael Mendoza, commissioner of the Monroe County Department of Public Health, said there is no way to know how many new cases are from the delta variant. He and Bello urged people who’ve yet to be vaccinated to be immunized without further delay. A list of vaccine clinics is at www.monroecounty.gov.

“The vaccines are proving to be very effective against all the variants we are aware of at this time,” Mendoza said. “If you are eligible for the vaccine, now is the time to get it.”

Bello said clinics have been held at the RTS transit center and are scheduled there again, as well as at Ibero American Action League and the Lincoln Library. He said efforts to bring education along with vaccine into neighborhoods has led to increases of between 6% and 9% in the 14613, 14611 and 14608 ZIP codes.

He said bringing vaccines to where people live helps to remove a transportation barrier, but others remain.

Still, in some city ZIP codes fewer than 50% of residents 12 and older have been vaccinated.

“The biggest barrier to success I think is around education, answering questions about the vaccine,” Bello said. An ambassador program from Common Ground Health sends people into neighborhoods to answer questions is showing progress.

Other topics from the news conference:

Hospitalizations: Dr. Emil Lesho of Rochester Regional Health and Dr. Paul Graman of UR Medicine said hospitalizations were low and were among unvaccinated people. They said vaccine protect against severe disease. They also said the age group generally was younger than the people hospitalized early in the pandemic.

Difference in antibody protection from vaccine vs. from COVID illness: Lesho said the protection from the approved vaccines, especially the mRNA vaccine (Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna) is a little bit better than the protection you get from natural infection. “We want to dispel the myth, ‘well, I’ll just get COVID and that’s a better way to protect myself.’ The vaccines are cleverly designed to enable you to respond to a broader range of antibodies or variants, if you will, like mutations. Whereas natural infection is a little more constrained. So that’s another reason to get the vaccine. Also, if you think the route to immunity is natural infection, you don’t know if you’re going to be one of those people who get a severe disease or end up in the ICU or be what’s called a long long-hauler.”

How COVID is spreading: Mendoza called it a familiar story. “It’s household contacts, close contact, close contacts between unmasked individuals.” He said cases from summer camps or graduation or birthday parties are transmitted by unmasked people in close contact for extended periods. “I do think the numbers are still low enough that we’re not looking at communitywide transmission like we were several months ago. It’s the reason why I’m optimistic that we can nip this in the bud, if we can get our vaccination rates even higher.” Overall, 62% of county residents have completed their vaccinations.

Wearing masks: Mendoza said anybody who’s vaccinated and wishes to wear a mask is certainly welcome to do so and people should not be judged if that’s what they choose. He and Bello said there are no plans for a county mask mandate, but that could change if there were community spread of the virus. As for schools, Mendoza said he is awaiting guidance from the state and is hopeful that districts will have latitude in making decisions.