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‘We’re not in a good place’: In Rochester, governor talks about COVID, National Guard

Gov. Kathy Hochul gives a COVID-19 briefing on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, in downtown Rochester.
Gov. Kathy Hochul gives a COVID-19 briefing on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, in downtown Rochester.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul started her first COVID-19 briefing of the new year in Rochester with praise for Monroe County’s efforts to combat COVID-19.

But she followed it with a frank update on the state’s COVID numbers.

“We're not in a good place, I'm going to be really honest with you,” Hochul said during Monday’s briefing at the SUNY Brockport Rochester Educational Opportunity Center. “This is the winter surge we predicted.”

Hochul reported 51,000 positive cases statewide on Monday, roughly 1,100 of which are within the Finger Lakes region.

She said the state will increase testing and vaccination efforts this month, with a focus on keeping children in their classrooms.

“It’s all about keeping kids in school,” Hochul said. “One of the things I'm excited about is making sure that we have other ways to enhance our opportunity to keep kids in schools.”

Aside from mask mandates and vaccination outreach, Hochul said the state will increase access to testing. She said Rochester-area schools can expect an additional 200,000 test kits to be distributed among families.

“We saw the storm brewing, we've ordered a lot of test kits,” she said.

In addition, Hochul announced that she would be expanding COVID-19 testing sites to include several SUNY and CUNY campuses, including Buffalo State, Plattsburgh, and Binghamton.

“We're trying to be creative in our approach to make testing easier for everybody,” she said.

The sites will be operated by the National Guard.

In an attempt to relieve the burden on local hospital systems, Hochul sent in National Guard members to assist nursing home and hospital staff. But the lack of medical training among members was slowing down deployment, she said.

“They're amazing. They do everything for us, but if they don't have any medical training, there's limitations on what they can do,” Hochul said.

She said a class of 80 members is now being trained and should be ready for assignment within a month.

Racquel Stephen is a health and environment reporter. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Rochester and a master's degree in broadcasting and digital journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.
April Franklin is an occasional local host of WXXI's Weekend Edition.