Mendoza shares thoughts on reopening Monroe County schools

Charles Molineaux
Updated: February 22, 2021 11:10 PM
Created: February 22, 2021 10:34 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — One of the Finger Lakes' leading medical figures in the fight against coronavirus says Monroe County is making hopeful progress toward getting kids back into school, but still has work to do.

On Monday, the county’s Public Health Commissioner Michael Mendoza spoke to members of the county legislature as they asked when students can return to in–person learning.

"If you look at the guidelines closely, we're actually not that far from reopening,” he told an online meeting of the County’s Recreation & Education and Human Services Committees.

Mendoza delivered legislators a message of promise and months-worth of lessons learned.

Mendoza pointed out that neither he nor anyone in county government, has the final say on whether any school can reopen, a role that rests entirely with the New York State Health Department and the individual superintendents of individual school districts. 

Mendoza says the low percentage of tests being performed that actually spot people with COVID-19 looks hopeful but the number of people with the virus is still a problem for reopening schools. 

"We've learned a lot,” he said. “We've learned that masks matter.”

Social distancing too. Mendoza rejected the idea proposed by Greece schools to reduce required social distancing from six feet to three feet.

"Not right now,” he warned. "With the community positivity rate that we have, that would not be consistent with the CDC guidelines."

But Mendoza did not offer his support for Plexiglas barriers, a subject on which he says he has accidentally become an expert. The superintendent of Penfield schools, Thomas Putnam, citing Mendoza’s input and the expense, now says he has no plans to install them.

"I have not seen any consistent evidence, scientific evidence, for or against,” Mendoza said. “There are many guidelines. There are no guidelines that recommend Plexiglas.”

In their session, legislators declared they hear from countless parents urging that their schools reopen and declared they want the kids back in class too. 

"I absolutely am desperate to open them. That's why I'm still a teacher,” exclaimed Legislator John Baynes, himself a retired teacher from Fairport Schools. “I haven't missed a day of school. I am a 67-year-old cancer survivor with mild hypertension. I have comorbidities, and I have not missed a day."

With Gov. Andrew Cuomo now planning to track how many teachers are vaccinated, Mendoza declared the more the better.

“Vaccination of teachers is a really good thing,” he told the legislators. “The more we can vaccinate teachers, the more we can be assured that they are safe from contracting COVID, not so much from the students but from one another.”

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