Number of serious COVID cases surges

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The Finger Lakes region has the highest COVID-19 hospitalization rate in New York—well above the state average.

As of Dec. 29, there were 517 patients hospitalized with the coronavirus in the Finger Lakes region, which includes Monroe County. Of those, 121 are in intensive care. Total COVID patients hospitalized per 100,000 population is 41.34, compared with 29.25 statewide.

Most of these patients, including more than 80 percent of those in the ICU, are unvaccinated, said Monroe County Executive Adam Bello in a briefing Thursday.

Monroe County reported 1,822 new cases today, with a 921 seven-day rolling average, compared with 680 new cases and a 501 seven-day rolling average at the same time a week ago. The highly contagious Omicron variant has contributed to these numbers.

“We don’t believe we’ve peaked,” said Bello, who also called for vaccinations, boosters and the use of high-quality masks. “We should expect more, and I even think 2,000 cases a day is likely what’s coming next.”

At Strong Memorial Hospital, 134 patients are hospitalized, up 12 from a week ago. Forty-five of them are in the ICU, said Michael Apostolakos M.D., UR Medicine chief medical officer.

“It is important to emphasize that a majority of our patients are unvaccinated,” he said, adding that the unvaccinated patients in the hospital currently are much younger and consider themselves much healthier before becoming sick with COVID, compared with hospitalized patients earlier in the pandemic.

The number of children in the hospital is small—nine are admitted at Strong—but it’s a number that’s increasing. Four pregnant women are in intensive care—two of them on heart-lung machines, Apostolakos said. 

“As an intensivist I care for these patients firsthand,” he said. “I’ve spoken to these patients before they went on life support and to their families, and none of them thought that they could get this ill from COVID.”

Most of them wish they could go back in time and get vaccinated, he added. Though Omicron appears to be less virulent, it doesn’t alter the importance of getting vaccinated.

This is a different COVID pandemic in many ways, said Michael Mendoza M.D., Monroe County’s public health commissioner.

“Omicron is different and for this reason we need to be thoughtful about what’s new without forgetting we know,” he said.

More than 510,000 people in the county have completed their vaccine series, officials said. More than 550,000 have received one shot. 

“The vaccine is the best way to prepare your body for the fight against every strain of COVID,” Bello said.

Robert Mayo M.D., chief medical officer at Rochester Regional Health, like others at the briefing asked the community to take every precaution to avoid infection. Both Mayo and Apostolakos expressed concern for frontline workers at hospitals who are getting sick with COVID. Those who get an infection are unable to work, given the need for isolation and quarantining. So far, staff across the health systems have rallied and stepped up to fill in.

Bello has no plans to shut down the county completely, though rolling closures are likely to occur at schools and businesses if staffing needs are affected.

“We have different tools this year than we had a year ago,” he said. “You go back a year, a year and a half ago, it was necessary because we didn’t have a vaccine. We have a vaccine now. We know how to keep people out of the hospitals, we know how to keep people alive. It’s really up to people to make that decision to do that.”

Increasing the ranks of the vaccinated and boosted remain key.

“Will people get sick? Sure. But we’re going to stay out of the hospital and we’re going keep people alive. That’s the goal,” Bello said. “And I don’t think we need to shut everything down in order to get that goal.”

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.

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