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First Rochester coronavirus case leads officials to limit public gatherings

Government officials speak at a press conference announcing Monroe County's first confirmed case of COVID-19.
Max Schulte
Government officials speak at a press conference announcing Monroe County's first confirmed case of COVID-19.


A Monroe County resident has tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Public health commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza and Monroe County Executive Adam Bello said in a statement that the person is in involuntary isolation at home “and is recovering nicely.”

“This case is the result of travel from a high risk area, and not a result of local transmission” the statement said. “It is NOT related to the students under quarantine at SUNY Brockport.”

At a news conference announcing the diagnosis, Mendoza said the risk of community transmission remained low, but he also encouranged social distancing to reduce the chance of the virus circulating locally.

"Now is the time to relook at our habits," he said, urging people to "reconsider gatherings of more than 50 individuals."

Mendoza said he, Bello, and Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren made the joint decision to suspend this weekend's St. Patrick's Day parade.

The county confirmed that the person with COVID-19 is a male resident of the city. In an interview with WXXI News, the person asked that his name not be used, but described himself as a man in his 30s who lives in Rochester’s 19th Ward and recently returned from travel in Italy.

“I started feeling sick, like a bad hangover, probably on Saturday,” he said.

Then, he said, he developed a low fever and a mild cough. “Plus, I felt really tired. Really slow.”

On Tuesday, when he returned to Rochester, he said he contacted Highland Hospital to alert them to his symptoms and say he was coming in for testing.

“They met me in full gear,” he said, describing hospital staff wearing protective equipment who escorted him to a negative pressure room designed to prevent his air from circulating through the rest of the hospital.

By Wednesday evening, he said, he had his result. “They called me and said, ‘Are you sitting down?’ And I just knew. I said, ‘I’m positive, right?’ and they said, ‘Yeah, you’re positive.’”

He said he was careful not to risk exposing anyone else to the virus. When his girlfriend picked him up, he wore a mask and rode in the trunk of the car.

“I’m pretty tall,” he said. “That was uncomfortable.”

(This story initially reported that the man said he rode in the trunk of a car from the airport to his house. Days later, he acknowledged that was a lie. He rode a Greyhound bus from the airport to Rochester, and then from the bus stop to his home in the trunk of a car, he told WXXI News on Friday. "I’m willing to admit that I told you the wrong thing,” he said. “I don’t quite know why. I am sorry.”)

Health authorities questioned him about his movements overseas and his contacts with other people. “They wanted to know pretty much everything,” he said.

The man expects his quarantine to last two weeks. “I’m hoping to watch some Game of Thrones,” he said.

Monroe County has established an email address ( and a hotline (585-753-5555) to address concerns and questions about COVID-19. Hours of operation are 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily.

Megan Mack and Emmarae Stein contributed additional reporting." rel="noreferrer noopener" style="font-family: "Segoe UI", system-ui, "Apple Color Emoji", "Segoe UI Emoji", sans-serif;" tabindex="-1" target="_blank" title="">

Brett was the health reporter and a producer at WXXI News. He has a master’s degree from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.