COVID vaccine

In the first COVID town hall since February, county officials said that they’re feeling optimistic about where the community currently stands with disease prevalence and vaccination, and encouraged folks to get out and enjoy the summer.

“We’re in a good place from a disease perspective,” Kruppa said. “If you’re fully vaccinated the risk is relatively low.”

The county has been hovering around 30 active cases in recent days, which Kruppa called “good news.”

“I don’t think zero is a realistic number,” he said. “We’re going to continue to see cases if we continue doing testing the way we are.”

He confirmed that about 90% of recent positive cases have been variants of the original coronavirus, the predominant strains being the U.K. variant and the New York City variant, which Kruppa said is to be expected.

Because there are so few cases and so many people are vaccinated, Kruppa said there hasn’t been much community spread to speak of.

“We had a couple of small clusters, one in residential living, one from a religious gathering that created some cases a few weeks ago,” he said. “We are consistently seeing household exposures. If someone in a home becomes positive, the other non-vaccinated people in the home become positive too.”

Tompkins County has the second highest vaccination rate in the state at 65.9%, trailing only behind Hamilton County, which, it’s worth noting, has a much smaller population. Additionally, the Fast Company recently published an article stating the Ithaca metropolitan area has a vaccination rate of 64.4%, the fifth highest in the nation.

Kruppa laughed at the notion of calling Ithaca a metropolitan area (other places on the list include major cities like San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco), but said he was happy to be recognized.

“It’s really a thank you to our community and the partnership that helps get vaccines available,” he said. “And a thank you to our community for stepping up […] The work’s not done but it’s always nice to hear the work is paying off.”

Though vaccination rate is high, Kruppa said the county has not yet reached herd immunity, and addressed people who were still holding out on getting vaccinated.

“I often get the response from folks that ‘if you’re vaccinated why do you care if I am?’” Kruppa said. “It’s about the ability for the disease to spread in our community. If that ability exists, the opportunity for the disease to evolve and mutate exists. That’s what we’re trying to solve. In this early phase with a novel disease the purpose of herd immunity is to stop it from spreading so it doesn’t continue to spread and mutate.”

Since the Pfizer vaccine has begun being offered to children 12+, Kruppa said he’s seen a good uptick in that age group getting vaccinated and that his department has been working closely with local school districts. He said it’s highly unlikely children under 12 will be eligible for the vaccine before the fall school year begins and that it would likely not be until the end of the year or early 2022.

“But it would be great to be proved wrong,” he said.

Kruppa also addressed a question about the death tolls, as there’s about a 20-person disparity between the county-published numbers and the state-published numbers, with the state’s being higher.

“We’ve tried to rectify that,” he said. “The challenge is we don’t know what the state considers a COVID death.”

He said it’s possible Tompkins County residents dying outside the county could be part of it, or it could be that the state was including COVID as a secondary or tertiary cause of death on a death certificate as a COVID death.

“We’ve been pretty consistently different throughout,” he said.

There was also a question about what people could expect in the fall, especially as college students return to the area.

“That’s the biggest unknown,” he said. “I’m always concerned, as a community we should feel good that the numbers are as low as they are.”

He said that even with Ithaca College and Cornell requiring their students to be vaccinated before returning to campus, the county would likely see an uptick of positive cases when they return.

“But that’s to be expected,” he said. “We’ll be hoping if people are positive their symptoms won’t be as bad and hospitalizations will be fewer […] People should expect we will see some additional cases, but it won’t be like last fall.”

With the relaxing of domestic travel restrictions, Kruppa was asked whether county residents should be worried about people visiting Tompkins County this summer. However, Kruppa encouraged people to just enjoy the summer.

“We want people to get back to normal,” he said. “Particularly those who are fully vaccinated, you should be able to move about the way you used to.” 

He added that it was the second question in a row with the word “concern” in it, and that as the commissioner of mental health in the county as well, it flagged the effect the pandemic has had on people’s mental and emotional state.

“Let us do the worrying,” he said. “Get out there, enjoy the summer.”

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