We may be tired of the pandemic, but it’s clear that the pandemic hasn’t tired of us. Although Monroe County has kept its COVID-19 case count relatively low, those numbers are now on an upward trajectory — prompting medical experts to stress the need for vigilance and caution.
By now, we have a much better idea of how the novel coronavirus is transmitted and the situations that pose some of the highest risks. The COVID-19 particle is only .125 microns, which means it can’t travel back into recycled water. But it can be easily transmitted through aerosols, which means wearing a mask, practicing physical distancing, and frequent hand-washing are still some of the best methods we have to slow the spread.
Unfortunately, it seems as if pandemic fatigue has caused many people to let their guard down. Ill-advised indoor gatherings have been tied to possible exposures, while crowded outdoor events with no health regulations to be found have left many feeling uncomfortable with how the City of Rochester is handling the ongoing health crisis.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Monroe County is now seeing a surge of confirmed COVID-19 cases, with the coronavirus positivity rate within the Finger Lakes region hitting a high of 3.7% earlier this week. Experts are predicting that by week’s end, Monroe County is likely to have around 1,000 active cases of the virus, largely due to participating in social gatherings without proper face protection.
At the tail end of last month, Monroe County had already reported a record number of new cases since the pandemic began in March. And as the tally continues to climb, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has described the situation in Rochester and the whole of the Finger Lakes region as a “serious caution flag.”
Of course, local businesses are still feeling the sting of the pandemic — and now, some are being forced to temporarily close after instances of potential exposure. Restaurants, in particular, are being impacted. While 70% of all business partnerships fail, restaurants were already thought to be more prone to failure than many other types of businesses. In a COVID world, permanent closures have happened even more rapidly. And as outdoor dining starts to become an impossibility in Western New York, the risks that come along with eating indoors have become a bit clearer.
The Strathallan’s Char Steak and Lounge, Genesee Brew House, Bathtub Billy’s, Union Tavern, and BluHorn Tequilaria are among the local restaurants that have faced temporarily closure stemming from positive COVID-19 cases among either employees or patrons. Health officials have warned customers to quarantine and undergo COVID testing during periods of potential exposure, but these occurrences illustrate all of the unknowns associated with spending time in public spaces during a pandemic.
Although restaurants are legally able to operate, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s actually safe to eat there. Recent CDC reports show that adults who tested positive for COVID-19 were twice as likely to have eaten out at restaurants in the two weeks before they became sick. And while eating outdoors is typically seen as safer, it’s important to keep in mind that with so many maskless people around — even if there’s distance between tables — the threat of exposure is high no matter what. There’s also reason to believe that indoor ventilation systems could increase the risks of widespread exposure. Duct exhaust buildup can lead to a 42% efficiency loss, but improper airflow can also make it more likely for patrons dining indoors to become ill — even if they’re separated from an infected person by well more than six feet.
While many local residents want to support their favorite eateries and are eager for things to get back to normal, experts stress that getting take-out and enjoying meals at home will prove to be a far safer option. And as we gear up for Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, health officials are concerned that we could easily find ourselves in a worse spot than we were in just eight months ago.