TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Amid rapidly changing restrictions and the continuing economic reopening, Tompkins County officials held another COVID-19 update to inform the community about the local infection rate and vaccination progress.

The panel, featuring Tompkins County Public Health Director Frank Kruppa, Tompkins County Legislature Chair Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, Tompkins County interim Administrator Lisa Holmes and county Deputy Administrator Amie Hendrix, primarily examined the vaccine distribution strategy and the evolving reopening regulations. (You can watch the full update here)

The county, though its vaccination numbers continue to impress, has still been unable to make the final push to herd immunity, which would be 75 percent of the population with a vaccine. Kruppa did, however, say that the health department has been happy with the up-take of the vaccine among young people since people between 12-15 were just recently deemed eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine.

“Right now, we’re pretty optimistic about where our disease levels are,” Kruppa said to lead-off, responding to a question from McBean-Clairborne. He said that the county has been hovering around 30 active cases for several days, one of the lowest points in many months. “I don’t think 0 is a realistic number, we’re going to continue to see cases as long as we’re doing testing the way that we are. (…) Generally speaking, we’re in a good place from a disease level perspective.”

Kruppa also addressed people who are fully vaccinated, reiterating that they can basically return to their routines as they were before the pandemic began, with certain exceptions and considering mask regulations. It matches with previous guidance published by the health department.

“Because our disease incidence is low, even if there was a breakthrough case, which is when someone who’s fully vaccinated becomes positive, it’s very unlikely to happen and what we’ve found in those cases is that, if there are any symptoms at all, they’re very mild,” Kruppa said.

Testing has slowed down, Kruppa acknowledged, since Cornell University’s surveillance program was driving a lot of the high testing numbers. However, he also said lower daily testing figures are a result of less people getting sick and more people becoming fully vaccinated.

A constant question as time progresses: is there any fool-proof way to tell that someone is vaccinated, thus ensuring that someone is safe? According to Kruppa, there is not.

“The honest answer is, you don’t (know),” Kruppa said. “All of this is about personal responsibility. We’re asking our community to comply with the guidance. If you’re vaccinated and you’re concerned with the people around you not being vaccinated or not wearing their masks, wear your mask. Continue to stay six feet away from them. All the guidance that was in place previously, you can create for yourself just by changing your behavior.”

McBean-Clairborne touched on another popular topic, which is why the state’s death count in Tompkins County is so much higher than the one compiled by the county health department. In short, similar to months ago, there are still no answers.

“The challenge is, we don’t know what the state considers a COVID death,” Kruppa said. “That’s really the reason, we’ve been pretty consistently different throughout by about the same amount. I think we’re reporting just over 30 and they’re reporting just over 50. Every death is a tragedy, but we’re glad those numbers are as low as they are.”

Matt Butler

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