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Monroe County officials: Wear face masks to curb COVID-19 surge

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Monroe County officials have recommended that residents resume wearing facemasks in all public indoor facilities, given a recent rise in COVID-19 transmission rates locally.

The advice comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week revised its masking guidelines to recommend that vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas where there is substantial transmission of COVID-19. Over the weekend, the CDC added Monroe County to a list of locations with what it considers to be substantial transmission.

County officials are not issuing a mask mandate, so for now it’s not mandatory to wear face coverings. There is one exception for the public. The county will be requiring guests at the Seneca Park Zoo, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks inside indoor buildings and exhibits

Dr. Michael Mendoza, Monroe County’s public health commissioner, noted that masks are “a proven tool” that can help contain the current COVID-19 surge and protect community members.
A homemade cloth mask. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • A homemade cloth mask.
“The vaccines are proven to be highly effective, even against the delta variant, in preventing serious illness, hospitalization, and death,” Mendoza said in a press release. “However, an additional layer of protection will help keep the virus from spreading, especially among our most vulnerable populations including the unvaccinated and immunocompromised.

Monroe County has 50.02 cases per 100,000 people, according to CDC data. The federal agency considers communities with more than 50 cases per 100,000 people as having substantial transmission.

The CDC says the positivity rate for Monroe County was at 3.14 percent, though the county’s COVID-19 dashboard put that figure at 2.3 percent over the past seven days. The county dashboard also showed that officials recorded an average of 43 cases a day over the past seven days, a 34 percent increase from the average of 32 new cases per day over the seven days ending July 26.

“We’re seeing a surge of daily new positive COVID-19 cases in Monroe County and in many other communities across the state. While we know the vaccine is effective, we also know that the Delta variant is more contagious than previous strains of the virus,” County Executive Adam Bello said in a press release. “As we continue to follow CDC guidance, and in order to slow spread, we’re strongly recommending all Monroe County residents wear a face mask when indoors, where we know the virus spreads even greater.”

Earlier Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned during a press briefing that if COVID-19 numbers continue to climb across the state he may consider declaring another state of emergency. The previous one, which started soon after COVID-19 hit New York, ended June 24.

As he talked to members of the media, Cuomo, who is vaccinated, said he has decided to resume wearing a mask in indoor settings if he is in a “high risk” locality. The state has also put in place vaccination requirements for state workers, employees of state-run hospitals, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

On Monday, Bello and Mendoza also announced that all Monroe County employees will be required to wear masks or face coverings in public and in the common areas of all county-operated facilities, effective Tuesday, Aug. 3.

The county officials also joined with representatives from the University of Rochester Medical Center and Rochester Regional Health to announce that employees of Monroe Community Hospital, the county Department of Health, Rochester Regional Health, the University of Rochester, URMC, and UR Medicine affiliates must be vaccinated by Sept. 8.

If the employees don’t meet that deadline, they’ll have to undergo regular and frequent COVID-19 testing, wear masks indoors, and practice social distancing in the workplace, officials said.

Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at jmoule@rochester-citynews.com.

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