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County prepares for more COVID-19 cases, possible vaccine deployment 

COVID-19 cases are still climbing in Monroe County, but immunizations might not be far off. Though the news is hopeful, Monroe County Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza said, the time to ease precautions is still a long way away.

The first cases of COVID-19 were located in Wuhan, China in December of last year. Within months, the novel coronavirus responsible for the disease has spread across the globe. In Monroe County 364 people have died of COVID-19 to date.

“We want to encourage people to resist the temptation to resume normal too early,” Mendoza said Thursday. “I get it. I’m with you; I want normal, too, but we really run the risk of setting ourselves back by letting go of the reins too early.”

Vaccines will be more effective once the community has reached a level of herd immunity, Mendoza said. That could take months, depending on how soon vaccines arrive, and how quickly they are administered.

“This will be among the largest public health undertakings of our generation, to provide an immunization to 700,000 individuals here in Monroe County alone,” he said. “This will be unlike anything we’ve ever done.”

Initial shipments are relatively small, to allow hospitals and health care workers a chance to test out a complicated process, he said.

As the county prepares for the vaccinations, Mendoza said, it's also dealing with a surge of COVID-19 cases.

Mendoza said when someone contracts the coronavirus, the first 24 to 48 hours are crucial to stopping the spread. He recommended that anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms or a positive test result should proactively isolate and alert anyone they've been in contact within the last two days.

That's especially important, he said, because at times the health department takes longer than two days to complete contact tracing after someone tests positive.

“This is all within our control,” he said. “Remember that the upcoming surge of the holidays that are coming up, those individuals have not yet been exposed to COVID-19. So this is still in our hands.”

With the surge, the county has seen more deaths, and County Executive Adam Bello said it is opening a temporary morgue that can hold up to 20 bodies.

Funeral homes are limiting the number of services they conduct in order to sanitize and maintain social distancing, Bello said. Those steps are delaying funerals.

“Fortunately, we have not needed to use it yet,” Bello said of the morgue. “But with the growing numbers and the capacity that we have in the hospital systems, this unfortunately is a step that we have to take.”

Noelle E. C. Evans is a reporter for WXXI News, a media partner of CITY.

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