TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. –– In light of increasing cases in Tompkins County and around the region, officials provided an update to the community and fielded questions Monday night during a panel discussion on the ongoing response and efforts to maintain a low public health impact.

During the panel Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino, Deputy Administrator Amie Hendrix and Public Health Director Frank Kruppa answered a series of questions posed by Tompkins County Legislator Deborah Dawson and submitted by people around the community, dealing with a wide range of COVID-related topics. Kruppa began by directly addressing that, similar to other segments of the pandemic, Tompkins County has been able to stay away from the type of severe outbreaks that have been seen elsewhere. (The whole video can be streamed here)

“I think the reason we’re seeing cases go up, certainly in our county, is because it’s reflective of the region,” Kruppa said. “Unfortunately, COVID does not recognize borders and we commute in between, and so it’s expected that we would see some increase.”

Answering a question many have asked, Kruppa said the county includes Cornell’s surveillance testing results in its overall testing data to give a more complete picture of the virus’ hold in the county. Even if they were to discount the testing numbers at Cornell, it wouldn’t change the presence of students in the community.

“The challenge is that the folks being tested at Cornell are part of our community,” Kruppa said. “You can take their testing out, but then you also have to take them out. Otherwise, we’d have a low number of testing because you’d have upwards of 25,000 people who are being tested by Cornell that wouldn’t be in our numbers but would be among our community. There’s no clean way to make the separation between both.”

Molino emphasized staying “flexible and nimble” in the face of ever-changing mandates and guidance, but commended the community for its work so far. Additionally, Kruppa, Molino and Hendrix all urged local residents to stay the course –– to continue the personal work that has helped keep community infection rates low in Tompkins County, particularly as they rise in other areas in the Southern Tier region.

“We definitely are experiencing community spread,” Kruppa said. “As people move about, if there are cases rising around us, that creates a higher exposure potential, and we need to be mindful of that. As folks come in, we ask them to be careful and follow the guidance.”

Dawson asked Kruppa if closing indoor-dining would be necessary or appropriate in reaction to the increased cases, particularly with an eye to making sure that schools could remain open for in-person learning, but he said he didn’t think that step was needed currently. If the guidance is followed, he said, the community should remain safe. Molino said that closing any school districts, if it were to happen, would likely be a state-level decision and require state Department of Health approval.

An interesting note mentioned during the meeting was that Kruppa said the county health department is requiring a 10 day isolation period for people who test positive for COVID-19 (as long as they are no longer symptomatic or don’t have an underlying health condition), and that a negative test is not required to be considered “recovered.” Kruppa said research has shown that people who test positive are no longer contagious after 8-9 days, as long as they are no longer displaying symptoms.

Kruppa also said Monday night that trick-or-treating for Halloween was “risky,” but that the best way to do it is to set up a table outside of individually wrapped candy, avoiding bowls. He also discouraged large parties or gatherings, especially indoors. The Health Department has published guidance on Halloween under COVID. None of the panelists detailed their chosen costumes for the year.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com