Coronavirus variant detected in Monroe County; vaccines ramping up

Mar 4, 2021

Doctors at Rochester Regional Health said Thursday that they’ve detected a coronavirus variant in four Monroe County patients. 

The mutations are similar to strains found in Brazil and South Africa. The U.K. strain that is thought to be more contagious than the original virus was reported in Ontario County last week.

Credit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“This for now does not change anything about what I’m advising, which is to continue to do everything you can -- to wear your mask, to follow the usual social distancing requirements and to get your vaccine as soon as possible,” said Monroe County Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza.

He added that it’s likely the mutations have been in the region for some time.

This comes just as Monroe County Executive Adam Bello announced that the Riverside Convention Center in downtown Rochester has administered more than 10,000 COVID-19 vaccine shots since it opened at the end of January.

So far, about 20% of the region’s population has been vaccinated, said Dr. Nancy Bennett with the Finger Lakes COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force. Nearly 40,000 vaccine doses have been distributed this week within the region, she said.

“This is huge cause for celebration,” said Bennett, director of the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Center for Community Health and Prevention. “We're really feeling like we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”

The state and FEMA vaccine site at the former Kodak Hawkeye parking lot on St. Paul Street was opened specifically for those eligible in certain ZIP codes. These were areas where vaccination rates were low.

Wade Norwood with Common Ground Health, who also is with the Finger Lakes COVID-19 vaccine task force, said it will take more than one round of targeted efforts to get vaccines to people in underserved areas if equitable distribution is going to be achieved in the region. 

But he's optimistic about the future. 

“At the end of this vaccine initiative, (I am hopeful) that we will have achieved equity in all of its dimensions, by race, by ethnicity, by income and by geography,” said Norwood.

Bennett said that by conservative estimates, nearly every resident in the Finger Lakes region could be vaccinated as early as June. 

Vaccination rates could increase significantly with the addition of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which the FDA approved for emergency use authorization earlier this week, Mendoza said.