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Monroe County’s hospitals brace for influx of COVID-19 patients

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Rochester-area hospital systems are preparing for increased staff and resource needs as the number of COVID-19 cases in Monroe County and the Finger Lakes region surges.

As of Wednesday, Rochester Regional Health is treating 224 patients for COVID-19 across its network, nearly double the number of patients treated during the first surge in May, according to Dr. Robert Mayo, the system’s chief medical officer.

Likewise, the University of Rochester Medical Center system is currently treating 221 patients for coronavirus -- more than two times the number of people treated during the spring surge’s highest spike, according to Dr. Michael Apostolakos, chief medical officer of URMC’s Strong Memorial and Highland Hospital.

“We need to flatten the curve again,” said Monroe County Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza at a Wednesday news conference where he was joined by Mayo and Apostolakos.

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On Tuesday, health officials reported 504 confirmed new cases of COVID-19 in Monroe County, bringing the seven-day rolling average of new cases to 427. The seven-day rolling average for the testing positivity rate was 6.81 percent.

In light of an increasing number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, the University of Rochester Medical Center has decided to selectively postpone some elective surgeries and procedures in order to free up doctors, nurses, and hospital beds.

Apostolakos called the decision “a necessary step we are taking now to manage capacity as COVID cases rise.”

Rochester Regional Health has recently added 110 beds to the Sands-Constellation Center for Critical Care -- which would help in the case of increased COVID-19 hospitalizations -- and has trailers for coronavirus testing at its Wilson Center urgent care facility. It also conducts walk-in tests at Unity Hospital.

For both Rochester Regional Health and UR Medicine, these measures are designed to prevent a situation in which the COVID-19 surge would necessitate a state mandate determining how health care services are provided during the pandemic. Apostolakos pointed to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent decision to stop elective surgeries in Erie County as a cautionary tale.

During his own news conference Wednesday, Cuomo said he expected to see COVID-19 cases continue to rise throughout the holiday season before leveling off after New Year’s Day. He urged New Yorkers to act safely and responsibly to keep the numbers down as much as possible.

“The biggest fear is overwhelming the hospitals, period,” Cuomo said. 

Since the initial COVID-19 surge in the spring, Monroe County has benefited from increased testing and use of personal protective equipment, as well as a better understanding of the disease itself, Mendoza said. He added that an effective vaccine is on the horizon.

Dr. Michael Mendoza is the Monroe County Health Commissioner.
Credit Max Schulte / WXXI News file photo
WXXI News file photo
Dr. Michael Mendoza.

Mendoza also cited a low percentage of hospital patients in need of ventilators. While Mendoza cast those developments as signs of hope, he urged caution.

“It’s a different curve, but it’s taller,” Mendoza said of the current coronavirus surge.

The effects of group gatherings during the Thanksgiving holiday on COVID-19 cases will not be evident for a couple of days, he said.

Mendoza, Apostolakos, and Mayo continued to urge personal responsibility and precautionary measures such as mask-wearing, physical distancing, and avoiding non-essential gatherings.