If the surge in COVID-19 cases continues at its current pace or takes a turn for the worse, Monroe County could be facing another pandemic peak.
“Right now, we continue to take care of our patients in our community,” said Michael Apostolakos M.D., chief medical officer at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “We need every day, twice a day, to talk about capacity issues, to talk about staffing, to talk about outpatient and inpatient capacity. We do (have) people waiting in our emergency room every day for in-patient beds, but we’re able to care for them in the emergency department.”
A continuous rise in cases could pose a risk, limiting elective procedures—it could mean that non-COVID-related illnesses will have to go untreated, he added.
Apostolakos was one of 10 speakers at a COVID-19 briefing Tuesday. Amid rising positivity rates and hospitalizations, executives for Monroe and Erie counties, their respective public health commissioners and hospital medical chiefs made an urgent regional call to action for vaccinations and preventive measures against the coronavirus.
Monroe County reported 347 new COVID cases today, County Executive Adam Bello said. The seven-day average of new daily cases is 418 cases. A month ago, cases totaled 241 with a seven-day average of 218.
A year ago, there were 260 cases with a seven-day average of 238. During the same time last year, 184 people were hospitalized and 33 patients were in the intensive care unit. As of this weekend, 289 persons were hospitalized and 82 were in the ICU, Bello said.
“These numbers paint a clear and concerning picture of what’s happening,” said Bello, adding that the return to school, new college semesters, colder weather, more indoor gatherings and the Delta variant together have resulted in an increase in infection and hospitalization rates. “These increases are a major concern and we do not want a repeat of last year.”
In Erie County, cases and positivity rates are higher than what the area saw in the spring, said County Executive Mark Poloncarz. On Nov. 12, the county reported 714 new cases. While Erie County reported 369 cases on Nov. 14, the positivity rate was 9.7 percent—the highest in many months. Hospitalization rates with bed capacity in Erie County have been at 90 percent in the last couple of weeks.
“This is not a Buffalo or Rochester issue,” Poloncarz said, pointing to rising cases and infection rates in rural counties as well. “This is an issue for all of Western New York and the Finger Lakes.”
Like Bello, he made a plea for vaccinations and boosters, in addition to other precautions such as social distancing, masking and testing.
“None of us is interested in implementing mandates like we saw in the past,” Poloncarz said.
Michael Mendoza, Monroe County health commissioner, said the community is at a point where residents need to make conscious decisions based on the science available and recognize the unquestionable value of vaccination.
“We do need to remember that we have the power to change, to take charge of our health,” he said.
Apostolakos, who is the attending physician this week at Strong Hospital’s COVID ICU, stressed the pluses—safety and effectiveness—of the COVID vaccines.
“Over 80 percent of the patients in our ICU are not vaccinated,” he said. “The (unvaccinated) patients in our ICU with COVID are younger, generally in their 50s, as opposed to the few vaccinated patients in our ICU who are usually 75 or older. The vaccination is protective, and it prevents severe illness.”
He added: “Our ICUs are stressed. Our hospitals are stressed and vaccination of the rest of our population could help with that. … What I’m concerned about is beds being utilized for preventable disease that we could use for non-COVID illness and I’m concerned about harm that could occur if we don’t stem the tide here with patients with non-COVID illness.”
Regionally, 67 percent of the population 12 years or older has completed a Covid vaccine series, data from the Finger Lakes COVID-19 Vaccine Hub shows.
Robert Mayo, chief medical officer at Rochester Regional Health, echoed Apostolakos.
Patients have experienced delays because of shifting resources to accommodate needs, he said. Mayo hopes that RRH won’t have to hold off on elective procedures as the health system had to last year at the peak of the pandemic.
“Now is the time to double down on what we know works, bring down our case numbers and corresponding hospitalizations, and ask our residents to return to vigilance,” Bello said.
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.