ITHACA, N.Y. –– At a press conference Monday afternoon at the Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD) headquarters, county and health officials updated the public on the rapidly spreading 2019 novel coronavirus –– or COVID-19.

Jason Molino, the Tompkins County Administrator, Frank Kruppa, the Tompkins County Public Health Director and Martin Stallone, the CEO of Cayuga Health System spoke to media about the risks and readiness of Tompkins County as the illness is qualified as highly “virulent and transmittable.” 

“The risk is high, but it’s mitigatable depending on how we act to reduce it,” Stallone said. He went on to say that between county and private health care agencies “there is a great state of readiness and substantial capabilities can be brought to bear.” 

New York State has seen an increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases in past weeks, now reaching a total of 142 individuals with coronavirus. In Tompkins County, a third person is under investigation for the virus. According to the TCHD, “the individual is currently isolated, and samples have been collected and sent to a laboratory for testing.” The previous two patients suspected of having the illness were Cornell students, and ultimately tested negative for coronavirus.

Officials stressed that while the risk for the disease coming to the area is relatively high, they are confident that the burden of the disease will remain low. In other words –– hospitals are well equipped to handle infected persons, and the spread can be contained if people do their part maintaining good hygiene (washing hands with soap and water, primarily) and contacting officials if they think they are ill.

In addition to the emphasis being put on personal hygiene, county-wide measures have been put in place to identify and contain potential cases, including travel bans and mandated quarantines.

To date, 42 people in Tompkins County have been quarantined, 6 were released without symptoms following the 14 day quarantine period, and 36 are still being monitored. To date, none of those in quarantine have developed symptoms.

There are not yet any precautions being taken for students returning to the area after spring break from infected areas within the U.S., according to Kruppa.

Cornell University last week announced a travel ban on all Cornell-related student travel to international destinations until further notice, with special attention and a stringent ban on Cornell-related travel to CDC Level 3 areas (mainland China, South Korea, Italy and Iran), as well as Japan. Any student, faculty or staff member returning to the United States from a CDC Level 3 country or Japan is required to undergo quarantine at their permanent home residence for a minimum of 14 days prior to returning to campus.

In addition, registration is being required by faculty and staff who wish to travel to any international destination on Cornell-related research, scholarship or business prior to departure.

Ithaca College in an update last week, said officials are actively monitoring the coronavirus in countries where students are studying abroad and communicating directly with those students. Previously, they had recommended a self-quarantine for those students and faculty returning from affected areas.

Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce sent a message to local businesses last week with tips and resources to help them stay clean and open amid the coronavirus concerns. The chamber advised businesses to make plans in case supply chains are disrupted and encouraged allowing employees to work remotely if possible.

The chamber also suggested businesses address paid sick leave plans for employees who may feel compelled to come to work, potentially raising the risk of transmitting illnesses to other employees or the public.

Public transportation services, including TCAT and OurBus have both put extra precautions in place for local travel. TCAT is cleaning their buses with “a professional-grade germicidal electrostatic sprayer for bus handlers to disinfect bus interior surfaces every night at the end of the day’s service period to include stanchions, handrails and seats.” 

OurBus is double-checking that their carriers are “cleaning with proper disinfectants, more frequent cleaning, ensuring that drivers who are not feeling well do not drive and offering hand sanitizer to passengers.”

Tompkins County is reminding residents of these precautions ––

For individuals:

  • Stay home from school and work if you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (60-95% alcohol)
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces and objects
  • Get the flu vaccination if you have not done so already
  • Talk to your employer about plans for working from home

For employers:

A reminder that COVID-19 may cause symptoms including:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Trouble breathing
  • Pneumonia

If you returned from an affected area in the past 14 days and feel sick with fever, cough or trouble breathing, you should:

  • Seek medical care. Before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms.
  • Stay home and avoid contact with others until you are well.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Disinfect surfaces

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com