ITHACA, N.Y.—The coronavirus pandemic continues to worsen in Tompkins County, much like elsewhere in the state and country, as the Tompkins County Health Department announced 61 new positive tests for COVID-19, along with the fourth death in the last two weeks stemming from an outbreak at the Oak Hill Manor Nursing Home.

The most recent wave of cases is being blamed on travel and small gatherings for the holidays. As a result, the county is issuing new guidance that essentially discourages all private gatherings, beyond the 10 person limit that New York State has implemented.

“A majority of the 61 cases are resulting from spread within households and small gatherings, such as Thanksgiving or holiday celebrations, where one positive individual who may not have been showing symptoms infects most of their close contacts in those settings,” the health department stated.

New guidance from the county health department follows, with new, stricter regulations placed on in-person gatherings, though the guidance exempts workplaces.

“Do not gather with others at this time,” the guidance states. “Instead of small gatherings, consider virtual alternatives with friends and family outside your household.”

Otherwise, the guidance says to “avoid becoming a close contact,” which is defined as being within six feet of someone who tests positive for COVID-19 for 10 minutes or more. In the workplace, the health department said that masks should be worn in all settings with interactions with others. Co-worker interactions and density should all be reduced, with social distancing enforced. Remote work options should be utilized when possible.

All non-essential travel and all interactions with people outside of your own home should be limited, with a guidance to wear a mask whenever outside of the home.

There are currently 293 active cases, 231 of which have been reported over the last seven days, and 1,100 individuals have been ordered into mandatory quarantine in the county. Four people are hospitalized. The health department also published a list of where cases have come from recently:

  • Significant spread at local gatherings, including Thanksgiving celebrations with extended family from outside of New York State or the county
  • Holiday-related travel from out of state or county
  • Small cluster s of employees at local businesses
  • A number of positive cases associated with local higher education institutions
  • Several entire households testing positive, including large multi-family households
  • Over 100 cases cannot identify where they might have contracted the disease

There have been five deaths in Tompkins County now, four in connection to Oak Hill Manor. The nursing home has over 50 cases among residents and staff members at last update.

“We are seeing in real-time how quickly COVID-19 spreads and the ripple effect that our actions have on others close to us, as well as on the wider community. In addition to being careful and following the guidance, we’re asking people to be patient — if we hold off on gathering now, we can bring the positive case number down and keep our family members from getting sick and being negatively impacted.” Public Health Director Frank Kruppa said. “Our thoughts are with the family of the individual who passed today, and with all of those who are impacted by COVID-19. We all have a responsibility to keep each other healthy and stop the disease from spreading and hurting others.”

There will be another COVID-19 Town Hall held on Wednesday, Dec. 9, at 5 p.m. streamed here.  Questions can be submitted to drecckio@tompkins-co.org.

Matt Butler

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