Monroe County marks World AIDS Day

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — A quilt created nearly four decades ago during the darkest days of the aids pandemic is being recognized in Monroe County amid a current pandemic.

The quilt is the largest community arts project in the world and is a part of the national aids. It weighs 54 tons and stretches more than 50 miles in length, and today a section of the quilt is on display in the county office building. With today being World AIDS Day, Monroe County wanted to honor all those impacted.

“It was 40 years ago this year that the first HIV and AIDS case was diagnosed in Monroe County,” County Executive Adam Bello said.

From the 1980s till now, community leaders say the past 40 years of the aids pandemic can’t be forgotten, especially as the world battles another pandemic.

“It reminds us, especially now as we face the COVID-19 pandemic, that we must be ever vigilant to address social, racial and economic injustice that manifests itself in health disparity, bigotry and fear,” Assemblyman Harry Bronson (D, 138) said.

In a report from the New York State Department of Health last year, the number of new diagnosed cases of HIV among those who live in Monroe County was higher in 2020 compared to recent past years, and health officials expect the number to rise.

“I would not be surprised to see numbers go up,” said Monroe County Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Michael Mendoza. “That’s a dual-edged sword… on one hand, it’s good to see more because we’re screening more, but unfortunately we’d rather see less.”

Officials hope that from one generation to the next and from one pandemic to another, lessons can be learned.

"We need to understand what those early days were like in order to appreciate where we are today and also see through the windshield and talk about the end of HIV,” said Dr. William Valenti, Chief of Innovation at Trillium Health.

As Chief of Innovation, Dr. Valenti oversees programs to End the HIV Epidemic, including Pre-exposure HIV Prophylaxis (PrEP), LGBTQ Health and the MOCHA Center.

The panel of the AIDS Memorial Quilt will be on display in the lobby of the Monroe County Office Building from Dec. 1 through Dec. 31.