ITHACA, NY -- The Tompkins County Health Department is urging residents to continue social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands and avoiding high-density gatherings as the region sees an uptick in COVID-19 cases.
Numbers in Tompkins County have risen steadily through the month; on Oct. 1 there were 21 active cases, 46 by Oct. 15 and 79 by Oct. 26.
“Our sister counties are seeing significant upticks and we’ve seen an uptick too,” Health Director Frank Kruppa said at an Oct. 26 update meeting. “The numbers are higher than we’re used to. We have to continue to remain vigilant.”
Kruppa said the number one source of transmission continues to be small gatherings where people spend an extended period of time together. As the pandemic and restrictions carry into an eighth month, Deputy County Administrator Amie Hendrix acknowledged it was wearing on people.
“People are tired, we get that,” she said. “It’s that endurance piece, we need to continue to support each other and push through.”
Ithaca High School moved to remote learning through Nov. 6 after three students tested positive last week and subsequent contact tracing found that a significant number of students and staff" may have been exposed. Kruppa said that the health department had been working closely with local school districts since early March.
“We’re now navigating it as cases begin to emerge,” he said. “Now as decision making happens, we haven’t found transmission within a school.”
One of the biggest factors in community spread is the vast overlap between Tompkins County and its neighbors, as many people commute in and out for work and shopping.
“We definitely are experiencing community spread,” he said. “The disease doesn’t know boundaries. If cases rise around us, that creates a high exposure rate in Tompkins County. We need to be mindful of that as folks come in.”
With Halloween coming up this weekend, Kruppa outlined the safest way for people to enjoy the holiday.
“Trick or treating is a risky activity,” he said.
He suggested setting up a table outside of your home with individually wrapped candy so that people aren’t reaching their hands into a bowl over and over. Better yet, he suggested keeping the kids home and doing a candy scavenger hunt in your house or yard.
“Try having Halloween as a family, the group you’ve been around and living with,” he said. “Stay in and play games and watch scary movies or Disney cartoons — whatever works for your family.”
He also added that for those participating in early voting now or voting on Election Day to make sure to stand six feet away apart in line, wear your mask, and wash your hands before going in and then after coming out.
In the holiday vein, he added that Thanksgiving is about as high risk as it gets.
“Thanksgiving is exactly what we don’t want,” Kruppa said. “It’s groups of people gathering, sitting around a table, not wearing masks and eating for an extended period of time. And it typically brings generations together. Grandma and grandpa and elderly parents are there. When it comes to protecting my parents, we’re not getting together because the risk of that is too much.”