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County COVID-19 cases spike, Nazareth works to contain outbreak

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Monroe County reported a sharp increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases on Friday, while Nazareth College officials said they are working to contain an outbreak within the campus community.

The county's Public Health Department reported 54 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Friday, while in the weeks prior the number had hovered around the mid-20s. Nazareth students, 19 of which have tested positive for COVID-19 over the past two days, accounted for at least some of the increase. But in a statement, county Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza cautioned that the daily figures "do not yet reflect all of the cases being reported by Nazareth College."

The Public Health Department's contact tracing team has been working to determine where the 54 individuals were exposed, Mendoza stated. He added that approximately 70 percent had close contact with someone who recently tested positive for COVID-19. The other people reported traveling outside of the area or attending a social event.

"At this point, it is premature to conclude whether we are seeing increased community spread," read Mendoza's statement. "The outcome of contact tracing related to today’s cases is reassuring so far."

Meanwhile, Nazareth officials are working with the state and county health departments to contain the emerging COVID-19 cluster in its community.

The college reported 19 positive cases within the past two days, all of which were related to one student event off campus. Another 60 people with whom they had been in close contact during their infectious days have been moved into separate quarantine spaces.



Nazareth officials also said that there are two unrelated individual cases, for a total of 21 cases. The college said that affected individuals are being regularly monitored and supported. All are experiencing mild or no symptoms.

Contact tracing indicates that the recent upsurge is linked to a single event last weekend that, while some health and safety precautions were taken, included sharing a meal, during which masks were not worn and people were within 6 feet of each other. Nazareth is investigating the event and officials noted that violations of the codes of conduct/ethics will be subject to disciplinary action.

Nazareth is doing extensive cleaning and sanitation of all affected areas by a specialized contractor.

The college is taking additional steps including limiting on-campus gatherings to 10 people, barring off-campus gatherings, reducing dine-in eating to 25 percent of capacity (all food is already available to go), closing all gathering areas in residence halls, and closing all fitness centers.

Nazareth College President Beth Paul said in a statement Friday that the college’s “collective efforts are only as effective as our individual willingness to comply with social distancing and wearing face coverings. Let us recommit to one another, to respect each other’s well-being, and advance our learning community.”

Nazareth was already conducting classes using a hybrid model with some in-person instruction and some remote learning. Officials said on Friday that will continue at this point, though professors can choose to move to remote learning for their classes if they prefer to.

Randy Gorbman is the news director at WXXI News, a media partner of CITY. He can be reached at rgorbman@wxxi.org.

CITY News Editor Jeremy Moule contributed to this story. He can be reached at jmoule@rochester-citynews.com.

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