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Online survey will track COVID-19 symptoms in Finger Lakes region

Monroe County public health commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza demonstrates an online survey to track COVID-19 symptoms in the Finger Lakes region on Thursday.
Brett Dahlberg
Monroe County public health commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza demonstrates an online survey to track COVID-19 symptoms in the Finger Lakes region on Thursday.

The Monroe County public health department and the nonprofit organization Common Ground Health launched an online survey on Thursday to track COVID-19 symptoms in the Finger Lakes region.

County public health commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza said he wants people across the region to take the survey daily, even if they don’t have any symptoms of the disease.

He said current data points lag behind reality.

“Right now, we’re using hospitalizations and deaths to determine the prevalence of the virus,” he said, but those numbers “really only tell us what was happening two weeks ago.”

Survey results will help health officials pinpoint developing hot spots, Mendoza said. “Our goal with this is to identify what’s happening today and yesterday.”

The survey will collect information about people’s age range, gender, symptoms and ZIP code. Mendoza said it will not identify people personally, but by aggregating the data by ZIP code, the health department can target testing and contact tracing in areas where symptoms show the virus is spreading.

That will be especially important as distancing guidelines begin to relax, Mendoza said. People’s self-reported symptoms can give local officials “a way to know when we need to turn on the brakes.”

Mendoza, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, and Common Ground Health CEO Wade Norwood all stressed that the information the survey gathers will only be useful with broad participation.

“We need the engagement and involvement of everyone in our region, especially from those communities that have been traditionally medically underserved -- African American communities, our Latino neighbors, and our regional rural neighbors, as well,” Norwood said.

Mendoza said the health department is working on a Spanish version of the survey and will also have a mobile-phone version available soon.

Officials said the survey will gather data from across the Finger Lakes region -- Monroe County, as well as Allegany, Chemung, Genesee, Livingston, Ontario, Orleans, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates counties.

Those are the counties grouped together in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan for reopening businesses and public facilities if the spread of the virus is kept under control.

Mendoza said the survey will not collect personally identifying information -- though it will ask respondents for an email address, which he said the health department will use to remind people to take the survey every day.

“The survey is only as good as the data we get,” Mendoza said. “We don’t want to reach wrong conclusions based on insufficient data.”

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.
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