ITHACA, N.Y.—The Tompkins County Health Department is reporting 130 new positive COVID-19 cases, a single-day record, bringing the number of total active cases in the county to 364, also the highest number of simultaneously active cases the county has ever seen.

It isn’t exactly clear how many of the 130 positive cases reported on Tuesday are from regular Tompkins County residents versus Cornell University students arriving in town and starting their COVID-19 testing regimens. However, the health department specifically stated that “a significant portion are related to arrival and surveillance testing as colleges resume operations for the fall semester.” The health department said that all positive cases are in isolation.

Five people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. The last time active cases were this high, during the previous local peak of the pandemic in early January 2021, there were 32 people hospitalized with COVID-19. The local vaccination rate currently sits around 71.1 percent. While vaccinated people have started to be hospitalized for the virus for the first time locally, they are avoiding the ICU and death from COVID-19.

The health department is hosting a COVID-19 community update on Thursday afternoon, Sept. 2, at 4:30 p.m., available at this link both during the broadcast and afterwards.

On Monday afternoon, Cornell updated their internal testing numbers after a four-day lag, showing a jarring rise in positive tests: 201 over the last week, and 157 positives during the Aug. 27-29 weekend. The positivity rate during that time period was 2.7 percent (157 positives out of 5,633). The school also reports that 95 percent of its campus community is vaccinated, though it recently went to a yellow COVID-19 risk level in response to the case rise.

The new numbers are, without a doubt, scary. But health department officials reported that most of the new cases are asymptomatic, meaning that while people are testing positive, they aren’t actually feeling many of the effects of the coronavirus. Additionally, they said that the new cases are largely a result of “sustained close contact with a positive individual, meaning more than 10 minutes within six feet of a positive case,” primarily resulting from “large indoor gatherings that mix different groups of people.”

The mask advisory remains unchanged for the general public, according to the health department.

“With this increase, we are continuing to urge the community to get vaccinated, wear a mask while around others, and get tested when you are symptomatic or a close contact,” said Tompkins County Public Health Director Frank Kruppa. “Our nurses and healthcare partners at Cornell, Ithaca College, TC3, and Cayuga Health System are doing a remarkable job keeping up with contact tracing and responding to this significant increase in positive cases.” 

Kruppa continued, “As people resume their normal activities and with the Delta variant being more transmissible, we’re seeing more fully vaccinated individuals test positive. A vast majority of the new cases are asymptomatic and we have not seen a relative increase in severe disease or hospitalization. Vaccines are working to keep people from getting severely ill.”  

Matt Butler

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