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COVID-19 surge expected to continue in coming weeks; vaccinations still underway

University of Rochester
Respiratory therapist Wondie Endeshaw, pictured awaiting his dose, was one of 10 employees at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, NY, to receive their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 14, 2020.


COVID-19 cases are at an all-time high in the Finger Lakes region as more and more front-line health care workers are getting vaccinated. 

  At the University of Rochester Medical Center, more than 14,000 employees have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose as of Monday. Dr. Michael Apostolakos, URMC's chief medical officer said that some will receive their second dose on Tuesday. 

“The vast majority of staff members report having no side effects and many said the injection was less painful than a flu shot,” Apostolakos said.

Immunization against the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 requires two vaccine doses about one month apart. For the Pfizer vaccine, the wait period in between doses is 21 days, and for the Moderna vaccine, it’s 28 days, both with a grace period of about four days, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Robert Mayo, chief medical officer with Rochester Regional Health, said that he hopes that more people understand the importance of getting a vaccination.

“If any individual has apprehensions of the vaccine, (I hope) that they will seek guidance from their physician,” said Mayo.

Just under 900 people are currently hospitalized for COVID-19 at URMC and Rochester Regional hospitals in the area. At URMC on Monday, around 50 people were on ventilators in the intensive care unit.

Local health care experts expect the post-holiday surge to continue for at least two to three weeks, Apostolakos said. He warned that it could take longer if people do not take steps to flatten the curve, such as hand-washing, sanitizing surfaces, wearing masks, and social distancing. 

Credit University of Rochester
Emergency room nurse Regina Byrd of Rochester, left, receives her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, administered by nurse Amanda Davis, on Dec. 14, 2020, at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, NY.

“It has become absolutely critical to be vigilant about these simple steps that keep our families and our communities safe,” he said.

To help care for patients with COVID-19, URMC will close its Sawgrass Center for outpatient surgeries starting Wednesday. Operating room staff will be redeployed to intensive care units. Apostolakos said he hopes the center will be able to reopen by the end of the month.

Meanwhile, nursing home residents with COVID-19 who have been treated at URMC hospitals can now receive transitional care at Hurlbut Care Communities.

The New York state health department has approved the network for nursing home facilities to provide the care.

“This will impact COVID-positive patients from nursing homes and assisted living facilities who no longer require hospital care but need a negative test result before returning to their home facility,” said Apostolakos.

As of last week, Rochester Regional Health began collaborating with Hill Haven Nursing Home to transfer recovering patients from hospitals until they test negative for the virus. 

About 35 patients were transferred to the nursing home last week, Mayo said.

Noelle E. C. Evans is an education reporter/producer with a background in documentary filmmaking and education.
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