ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — As the holidays approach, New York is seeing COVID cases continue to surge throughout the state. More than 9% of tests are currently coming back positive, and, for the fourth day in a row, the state has broken its record for the highest single-day case count.
While the delta variant still makes up the majority of COVID cases in New York, the more transmissible omicron variant is likely to become the dominant variant across the U.S. in the coming weeks. Currently, it makes up for 13.1% of cases in the New York/New Jersey region.
“It is coming. It is probably here, and we expect to see a surge in cases very soon,” said Dr. Michael Mendoza, the Monroe County Public Health Commissioner. Mendoza was among many Rochester-area leaders who met Monday to announce a new campaign aimed at getting hospitalizations down while keeping businesses open.
Dr. Mendoza said there’s still a lot we don’t know about omicron, but there are a few things we do know. This includes symptoms appearing generally milder, but that’s not the case for everyone. “Because of the surge, we can still anticipate having many more people who will need hospital beds and our systems will be strained even more than they already are,” he explained.
The public health commissioner also said booster shots and masks have shown to be effective at preventing infection from omicron. “We can still stop it from spreading, the evidence is still emerging, but we are learning that boosters are highly effective,” Mendoza said. “If you get your booster today, you will receive protection within days, not weeks.” He also called masking one of the “most important things we can do in the short term” when it comes to stopping the spread.
With cases on the rise, local hospitals are preparing for the potential impact omicron could have on already overworked hospital systems. “Each day we assess our staffing, assess our resources, we redeploy individuals to address areas of need. So it is a constant day-by-day assessment,” said Dr. Robert Mayo, the Chief Medical Officer of Rochester Regional Health.
Mayo said their ICU is “very full” and there’s concern omicron could make things even worse, especially if people aren’t taking necessary steps to protect themselves. “The more the community can do to stay well and stay healthy, the better it will be for those who need the level of care required in a hospital,” he said.
Dr. Michael Apostolakos, the Chief Medical Officer of Strong Hospital, said they have had to limit more than 200 non-elective surgeries already due to moving staff around and overwhelmed hospitals. If more positive patients end up in the ICU, it could mean hospitals would have to limit other care, like essential surgeries.
“People have to think about, what if we don’t have an ICU bed and you have a heart attack or you have a stoke, or you need major surgery and we can’t provide it?” Apostolakos said. “This is preventable with vaccination, with boosters, with masks.”
With Christmas a few days away, health experts say it’s even more important people are taking additional steps to keep one another safe. Recently, Monroe County, Ulster County, and the state of Massachusetts all started offering free, at-home rapid tests for residents.
“Before you have that gathering, take that test because that is going to allow you to see if you are okay and you will be able to remove yourself away from grandma or the person who may have asthma,” said Malik Evans, Rochester’s Mayor-Elect.
Dr. Linda Clark, the Chief Medical Officer of Common Ground Health, also encourages good hand-washing and wearing masks while indoors. “Eating is probably the scariest thing that that’s going to happen. That’s probably the biggest chance of transmission then,” she said, adding that distancing while eating and putting masks back on afterward is important.
And while the pandemic is getting old to us all, health experts remind people that one person’s actions can have a big difference. “All of us have a role and helping to protect our greater society. It may seem minimal that, you know, ‘I’m just one person that didn’t get vaccinated.’ But that’s really impactful, especially when you make that decision for your kids and then make decisions about who comes into your home,” Clark said. “One person has a lot of power on being able to fight this virus.”