If ICUs continue to admit COVID-19 patients, hospitals will be limited in their ability to provide care. This grave warning came from Michael Apostolakos M.D. today at the launch of a “Let’s Keep Monroe Open” campaign, the latest attempt to urge the community to vaccinate and mask up against the virus.
“Non-COVID illness will be severe in this community and people have to think about what if we don’t have an ICU bed and you have a heart attack or you have a stroke or you need major surgery, and we can’t provide it,” said Apostolakos, chief medical officer at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
“This is preventable with vaccination, with boosters, with masks,” he added. “If we do those things as a community, and we’ve done it before, we can have enough services to provide health care for all our community. Both URMC and RRH are here to help the community. What we’re asking for is a little more help.”
Apostolakos and Robert Mayo M.D., chief medical officer of Rochester Regional Health, and representatives from business, government and health care called on the community to “Vax-Boost-Mask” to keep the economy moving in the midst of a surge in COVID infections and hospitalizations.
“Capacity at the hospitals within Rochester Regional Health remains a challenge. It’s a day-by-day matter of work. ICUs are very full,” Mayo said.
A year ago, a similar surge brought the economy to a halt. An update from Monroe County this afternoon showed 504 COVID patients in the hospital; 138 were in intensive care. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 447 new cases per day.
“I believe most people are concerned with keeping our kids safe, having stores, restaurants and businesses that we depend on remain open, and on keeping businesses, employees and customers safe and healthy,” said Adam Bello, Monroe County executive. “We know how to do that—masking indoors, getting vaccinated and tested are common sense, proven ways to stop the spread of this virus and the coming Omicron variant. These precautions will also help limit the spread of the flu.”
Given the rise in COVID cases and hospitalizations, Gov. Kathy Hochul instituted a mask mandate that went into effect on Dec. 13 and will remain in place until Jan. 15. The mandate calls for masking in all indoor public spaces unless they require proof of vaccination. Acceptable proof of vaccination includes Centers for Disease Control vaccination cards and New York’s Excelsior Pass phone apps. In announcing the mandate, Hochul called on local health departments to enforce the mandate, with a maximum fine of $1,000 for each violation.
Michael Mendoza M.D., Monroe County public health commissioner, praised businesses that have stepped up to “do the right thing.”
“They are creating safer spaces for their employees and their customers, in part by asking them to wear a mask,” he said. “This simple added layer of protection during this busy holiday season will undoubtedly keep someone from spreading the virus to another, it will undoubtedly keep someone from going to the hospital and it may very well save someone’s life.”
Of the Omnicron variant, Mendoza said “it is coming. It is probably here.” He expects a surge in cases very soon. Though symptoms of an Omnicron infection often are mild, Mendoza said some patients will still need hospitalization.
“And our systems will be strained even more than they already are,” he said.
Colleen Wegman, president and CEO of Wegmans Food Markets, was present to show the grocery chain’s support for the Let’s Keep Monroe Open campaign. Robert Duffy, CEO of Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, and Rochester Mayor-Elect Malik Evans, who were also at the event, implored the community to follow the guidelines. Masking is not about politics but public health, Duffy said.
Let’s Keep Monroe Open posters distributed to businesses, organizations and employers will show their customers and employees that they provide a protected and safe indoor environment, officials said.
In closing, Bello stressed the need to stay positive amid controversies over masking and vaccines.
“Today is a rally cry for the whole community,” he said. “Let’s move past the negativity, let’s move past the conflict. Let’s work together so that the hospital beds are available. We can get through this with as many lives saved as possible.”
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.