TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—After another 15 new COVID-19 cases were reported yesterday, the Tompkins County Health Department has issued a Health Advisory “encouraging all residents, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask while indoors around others.”

The total number of active COVID-19 cases in Tompkins County is now 57, the highest it has been in months. There have been 47 positive tests in the last three days. The health department blamed the rise in cases primarily on “several clusters related to large indoor gatherings and domestic travel.”

The announcement from the health department is in accordance with CDC guidelines that call for indoor masking, even for fully vaccinated individuals, in places where there are more than 50 cases per 100,000 residents. There are now 57 active cases in Tompkins County, which has about 100,000 residents. There is no official guidance beyond the mask advisory, the county said, and it will wait until the New York State Department of Health decides whether or not to officially adopt the CDC recommendations on masking.

All county employees must wear masks while indoors regardless of whether or not they are vaccinated. The health department is further encouraging other local organizations to require the same, something Gov. Andrew Cuomo encouraged earlier this week.

Many have wondered about whether vaccinated individuals are contracting COVID-19 locally, and the answer appears to be yes, but it is unclear how many of the new cases are breakthrough cases among people who have been vaccinated. Tests are sequenced by Cornell University to determine if they are of the Delta variant, and the health department is analyzing positive tests and will release a breakdown of positive cases among unvaccinated and vaccinated people in the coming week. Still, as has been shown nationwide, even with the Delta variant vaccinated people are found to have “very high levels of protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death.”

Despite the rush of cases, there is still only one person hospitalized with COVID-19. The health department has also published a Delta variant web page to assist with frequently asked questions and access to information.

“As we await more information and guidance, one of the best things we can all do is proceed with caution,” said Tompkins County Medical Director Dr. William Klepack. “We know that the vaccines are proving effective in keeping people from getting severely ill or hospitalized, and that masks work very well to prevent the spread of the disease.”  

Interim Tompkins County Administrator Lisa Holmes stated, “Based on the information that we have at this time, and the science we have available, asking people to wear a mask is the best guidance for our community,” said interim County Administrator Lisa Holmes. “We’re continuing to encourage our employees to get vaccinated, and asking everyone to wear a mask following this advisory out of an abundance of caution. Taking these steps helps us keep one another healthy and safe. As we have more information and guidance we will share it with the community. Thank you to everyone for doing their part as we continue to increase our vaccination rate and stop the spread of COVID-19.”  

Matt Butler

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