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National Guard members deployed to Monroe County amid rise in COVID-19 infections

Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin and Monroe County Executive Adam Bello announced that 26 U.S. Army National Guard Members with EMT and medical experience will arrive Friday to help care for residents at Monroe Community Hospital at a press conference held at the Carter Street Recreation Center.
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Monroe County Executive Adam Bello, left, and Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin announce Wednesday at a news conference held at the Carter Street Recreation Center that 26 US Army National Guard Members with EMT and medical experience will arrive Friday to help care for residents at Monroe Community Hospital.

On the heels of a report that the Finger Lakes region surpassed a 10% infection rate for COVID-19, the National Guard is expected to report to Rochester by Friday.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the deployment order Wednesday. They’ll be stationed at Monroe Community Hospital.

Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin and Monroe County Executive Adam Bellow made the announcement Wednesday during a stop at the Carter Street Recreation Center to encourage school-aged children to get vaccinated.

Bello said the guard members will help Monroe County expand its hospital capacity during the current wave of COVID-19 cases, which have left several hospitals with only 10% of their beds open. The members are expected to help move people from hospitals who could be in nursing homes, among other duties.

“It’s the nursing homes,” Bello said. “It's how we clear up those acute care beds that we’re in need of here.”

With 26 guard members expected, Benjamin said the county’s allocation is the largest in the state. A total of 120 members will be deployed.

All members of these guard teams are said to be vaccinated, trained emergency medical technicians. Benjamin said the state is open to providing more troops without medical training if needed.

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Monroe County Executive Adam Bello at Wednesday's news conference held at the Carter Street Recreation Center.

“It is possible. And one of the things we said was, ‘Let's start here and work in conjunction, and if need be, we’ll send more teams,’” Benjamin said.

Benjamin said it’s one of several efforts the state is making due to concerns over hospital capacities and the potential of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. He also said they’ll adjust their strategy based on what happens next.

“We have made some decisions. We’ll see how that is processing. We’ll have some conversations. It's not a one-size-fits-all approach,” Benjamin said.

He’s also expecting hospitals to discharge patients who don’t need to be there and for hospital systems to delay elective surgeries.

Bello asked the public to help the cause by taking precautions. He also encouraged residents to get vaccinated or a booster shot.

“Get it done before the end of the year,” Bello said. "As the holiday season ramps up, get your booster shot, get a test before getting together with family and friends.”

When asked why he hasn’t taken a more aggressive approach to the recent surge, such as a mask mandate, Bello said he’s taking a phased approach because the county knows where the spread is happening in particular workplaces, social events and gatherings.

He also said the state of emergency that he declared this week isn’t just about new cases -- it's about keeping hospital beds open. But Bello warned that the county will adapt in time, if necessary.

“We’re using a scalpel, not a sledgehammer,” Bello said. “This is the appropriate response to where we are now.”