ITHACA, N.Y.—While positive tests continue to reach daily figures that would have seemed shocking a few months ago, recoveries have started to keep pace and Tompkins County officials believe that the number of cases has plateaued for the time being.

After hitting an all-time high of 488 local active cases on Sept. 5, active cases have fallen and now are regularly fluctuating between about 220-240 over the past 10 or so days. Tompkins County Deputy Administrator Amie Hendrix, during a Tompkins County Legislature presentation this week, said the data shows that the rise in cases has receded and stabilized, as daily recoveries (which means a person tests negative after a positive COVID-19 test) now routinely match or exceed the number of daily positive tests. As of Sept. 24, there are 221 active cases locally.

As Public Health Director Frank Kruppa has said previously, the health department is favoring hospitalizations as a more effective metric to gauge the pandemic’s current status as opposed to positive cases or positive test rate. In that sense, the pandemic is indeed not having as severe an impact as it was during previous peaks, with far fewer hospitalizations due to COVID-19—ostensibly because of the county’s high vaccination rate. There are currently five people hospitalized.

“Our cases have dipped off pretty dramatically from the high of just under 500 active cases,” Kruppa said. “They’re settling into a time of 30-50 cases a day, which is more than we had been seeing [earlier in summer] and is obviously creating a good deal of work for the staff at the health department doing contact tracing and case investigations.”

The most common way to contract COVID-19, Kruppa said, is through a household contact—or someone passing the virus to someone in their family or who they live with. He also addressed that, at least for several weeks, vaccinated people represented a higher number of the positive tests than unvaccinated people, though Kruppa said that was a function of the massive number of college students who returned to Ithaca for school—the vast majority of whom are vaccinated due to mandates at Cornell University, Ithaca College and Tompkins Cortland Community College.

“It’s started to come down a little bit, we’re under 50 percent now that are fully vaccinated in our cases each week,” Kruppa said.

There has been a recent uptick in vaccination rate locally, something Kruppa attributed to approaching vaccination mandate deadlines for both students and some local worker groups.

Legislator Mike Sigler suggested that some messaging pairing flu shot encouragement with COVID-19 vaccine or booster encouragement could be effective, especially if people could get them at the same place and perhaps at the same time. Kruppa said that the health department has had discussions with Cayuga Medical Center about designing something like that, but that nothing is set in stone yet.

“That is the messaging, that we want to give those vaccines together,” Kruppa said. “No final decisions have been made about whether we’ll be able to co-locate flu [shots] at the same place, but certainly we’re considering it and recognize that it’s an opportunity.”

To conclude Kruppa’s presentation, Legislator Anne Koreman asked if there was any more information available about the three fully vaccinated people who died from COVID-19 during September. Kruppa declined, acknowledging that (as some readers may have seen in reaction to the Voice’s story) the family of the first victim was quite displeased with the amount of information the health department released regarding that person’s death.

“We ran into an issue with the first press release we put out where we put out more information than we normally do and it created significant angst for the affected family,” he said. “What we’ve thought all along is that we have to be very, very careful about how much information we’re providing when it can be potentially identifiable, so at this point we don’t have any more information to release about those individuals.”

Matt Butler

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