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Monroe County ‘on the right track’ for reopening progress, health commissioner says

May 19, 2020

Monroe County and the Finger Lakes region are mostly on track to continue reopening the economy, County Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza said Tuesday. But, he also noted some reservations about rising numbers of hospitalized people and signs that distancing practices are not universal.

New York state’s first benchmark for reopening a region is declining hospitalization rates. But the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals in Monroe County has been rising for days, reaching a new high of 146 on Tuesday after four straight days of increases.

Mendoza linked the increase to two new developments: more testing of people already in hospitals for non-COVID-19 treatment, and an order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo preventing hospitals from discharging nursing home residents until they test negative for the coronavirus.

Mendoza said that rule appears to be slowing discharges but not admissions, which is driving up the total number of people in hospitals.

If the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 is growing, the state’s benchmarks allow a region to begin reopening as long as the number of new hospitalizations remains low. The limit is 15 new hospitalizations per day across a three-day average.

The Finger Lakes region meets that criterion, Mendoza said. But the growing number of people hospitalized might jeopardize the region’s ability to meet another one of the state’s metrics: total hospital capacity.

Hospitals in a region must have at least 30% of their beds available to handle a surge in COVID-19 patients if the virus begins to spread out of control.

Speaking in a virtual news conference on Tuesday, Monroe County public health commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza says rising COVID-19 are likely caused mostly by changing state rules and growing testing of people in hospitals for other reasons, not by a surge in new cases of the novel coronavirus.
Credit Max Schulte / WXXI News

“Is this eating into capacity? Yes. We’ve got to look into that,” Mendoza said. 

At the state’s last count, the Finger Lakes region had 42% of its hospital beds and half of its intensive care beds available.

Mendoza said he was expecting the number of cases of the coronavirus to rise as testing expands and the economy reopens.

“I’m planning on more cases. I have to,” Mendoza said.

The health commissioner said contact tracing has found new coronavirus cases among people who gathered with their families for Mother’s Day, despite the health department’s warnings.

A chart from the Monroe County public health department shows most new COVID-19 hospitalizations are nursing home residents.
Credit Monroe County Department of Public Health

Each person who tests positive for the coronavirus has, on average, between two and three other close contacts that contact tracers need to track down and quarantine, Mendoza said.

Still, Mendoza said, overall the county appears to be on a good trajectory. People and businesses seem to be developing new habits around distancing and disinfecting, he said.

“I think we’re on the right track, but I think we need to be vigilant. You know, we see signs that are reassuring every day, and we see signs that are concerning every day.”

The county health department said Tuesday that the number of people on ventilators for COVID-19 treatment had dropped by two, to a total of 17. Four more people had died of COVID-19 in the county, bringing the death toll to 178.