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Omicron detected in Monroe County; health care leaders urge using KN95 masks

Production Perig
Monroe County reported another 451 COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, Nov. 17.

The highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected in the Rochester area, and health officials say residents can expect another surge of COVID-19 cases.

University of Rochester Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Michael Apostolakos said the results from lab samples taken earlier this month were delivered on Wednesday. Out of 125 samples, 12 from Monroe County tested positive for omicron.

“Those numbers sound small, but we know that the omicron variant spreads rapidly,” he said. “We should assume that the prevalence of the omicron variant is already high in our community and that it could soon be the dominant form of COVID in our community if it isn’t already.”

Monroe County Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza said the already increasing volume of COVID-19 cases has put a strain on the county and state’s contact tracing system. Earlier this week, a statewide system outage further slowed down contact tracing efforts.

He said if you test positive, don’t wait for the health department to contact you before alerting others who may need to quarantine. He also said you should take steps to prevent further spread at home.

“We want you to immediately isolate, stay in a separate area of your home and use a separate bathroom if that is available to you,” Mendoza said. “If you have to come close to someone else in your home, we ask that you do so with both of you wearing a mask when you are together.”

Apostolakos said that with the new variant, it’s time to boost your masking technique if you haven’t already. That means using a KN95 mask instead of just a cloth or surgical mask.

The county reported 680 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday. Mendoza said with omicron, we can expect to see cases go up in the coming weeks.

“There will almost certainly be disruptions to our day-to-day lives, and if we do not get on top of this, there could be major disruptions,” to businesses, workplaces, schools, and health care systems, he said.

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.