With Gov. Kathy Hochul announcing Friday that health care workers will be required to get COVID-19 booster shots, Rochester Regional Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Mayo told the media the system is gathering information on who has received the booster.

Asked how much of his staff received booster shots already, Mayo said they’ve started asking people to submit information.

“I think we’re between 55 and 65%, but I think that’s mostly because we haven’t gathered all the data,” he said. “I don’t have a clear insight right now about where that’s going to be. We’ll get that data quickly and move forward ...”

We’re still in a frustrating discovery phase with COVID-19, Mayo said.

“It just makes sense to me, from what we know, that we’re going to need this. We’re going to need boosters. I hope that people can shift their thinking from ‘This is the last one, thank goodness,’ to, ‘OK, here’s the next step,” he said. “If you’ve come this far, let’s keep going. I hope people won’t make the choice that this is their last vaccine and they’re done. They’ve done great work up until now and we need their help. The community needs their help. We depend on each other. Let’s just keep fighting.”

Mayo noted that the flu vaccine is an annual vaccine.

“It’s designed for four different flu variants at the same time, because flu mutates very, very rapidly. When you get your annual flu shot, there’s four vaccines all in there. I anticipate that in time, we will get to a more regulated expectation of what will be needed with COVID.”

Mayo said for the health system, the thing that’s different now from the beginning of the pandemic is there are more employees who have contracted breakthrough omicron.

“All of our employees are vaccinated according to the state mandate. We are noticing that the severity of illness has definitely dampened in a vaccinated person, so that’s still a good reason, a very strong reason, to get the vaccine. But we are having more employees that are out on convalescence for that. That means we have fewer workers in the hospitals. We have had a decline in our total workforce over the pandemic.”

Mayo was asked whether this is the most short-staffed RRH has been since the pandemic began and whether this the greatest stress on the system since it started.

Mayo said this is certainly very severe.

“We will gladly accept applicants to come and help us at the hospital or at our clinics,” he said. “I’m sure that all of our health institutions would welcome more applicants. I can’t say that this is absolutely the worst time, but it is certainly a very challenging time.”

Rochester-Regional Health-United Memorial Medical Center has about 860 employees at its facilities, the hospital said Friday. Asked about recent staffing shortages or absenteeism, the hospital said Mayo addressed this from a health system perspective. UMMC said it is not diverting patients to other locations. Non-essential elective inpatient surgeries are still suspended as outlined by the state.

According to information from Hochul Friday about the percentage of patients coming to emergency rooms to be tested for COVID-19, the Finger Lakes region was the highest at 32% over the last 24 hours. Mayo was asked if that had anything to do with staffing shortages, hospitals being filled “to the brim” or a lot of walk-ins coming in that don’t need to be there, trying to get tested for COVID.

Mayo said all of those issues have been factors.

“We have seen an increase in people seeking confirmatory PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing. Last week, when we had (a) joint news briefing, it was mentioned that that was not necessary. The science of these tests is confusing for the most informed people,” he said. “I can only understand how frustrating it is for the public to try and understand which test means what under which circumstances.

“Suffice to say, the rapid home tests are very useful when they’re positive in a high-prevalence time. If a home test is positive, you’re positive. If it’s negative, when you have symptoms, than you really have to confirm it with a PCR to really know if you have COVID or not. You can’t just say, ‘Oh, my home test’s negative, I don’t need to take extra precaution,’” Mayo said.

The chief medical officer said there are times when people are so concerned, they really want to have a confirmatory test.

“We do ask that people don’t go to Urgent cares or EDs (emergency departments) for that purpose and if their employer is requiring a confirmatory test to approve sick leave, benefits or whatever the circumstances or policies might be, then we would urge business leaders to partner with the community and be sure their employees can get those tests through community testing sites through the state, from pharmacies or wherever they can partner,” he said.

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