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County health leaders urge precautions as respiratory viruses spread

Centers for Disease Control

Top health care officials in Monroe County are trying to get the word out to the community at large: get vaccinated and take other precautions to try and control the spread of respiratory viruses.

Various county and hospital officials held a news conference on Tuesday to talk about the recent increase in cases of COVID-19 hospital admissions, as well as influenza and RSV.

Dr. Michael Apostolakos, Chief Medical Officer for Strong and Highland Hospitals, said these respiratory illnesses are on the rise.

“In October, we had a news conference encouraging the community to protect themselves against flu, COVID and RSV by getting vaccinated. Today, we want you to know that the cases of all three respiratory illnesses are rapidly rising,” said Apostolakos.

Dr. Robert Mayo is Chief Medical Officer for Rochester Regional Health. He and officials at UR Medicine are both talking about the increase in patients affecting wait times in emergency rooms.

“Our emergency rooms, some days have very few patients waiting for admission,” said Mayo. “And other days, they're very overloaded, where there could be 50+, 70+ patients waiting for an inpatient bed. And that's not ideal. It's not good for patients to be in hallways or families to be waiting in hallways with their loved ones.”

Mayo said that one positive is that the recent surge of patients coming to the hospital due to respiratory illness is not comparable to the big increase in cases that was seen during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic a few years ago.

At Jordan Health Center, President and CEO, Dr. Linda Clark said it’s time to take some common sense steps, including staying home if you’re sick and also contact your primary care physician.

“Calling your doctor’s office could save you a trip to the emergency room, and eliminate wait times,” Clark said, “your provider also knows your health history and will be able to provide proper guidance.”

Recent figures from the NY State Health Department show that fewer than 10% of New Yorkers have received the latest version of the COVID booster shot.

Monroe County Commissioner of Public Health, Dr. Michael Mendoza, said that while the county is still gathering the data on local vaccination rates for the COVID-19 booster, only about 50% of the community got the latest available booster in 2023, and he thinks that “most of us anticipate the number this year will be less than that, which is unfortunately, in my view, a missed opportunity.”

Mendoza noted that, “the vaccine has been proven to be safe,” and he said it doesn’t prevent all cases, but it has been shown to minimize the likelihood of severe illness.”

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.