ITHACA, N.Y.—Fully vaccinated people who are “exposed to a positive COVID-19 case but are asymptomatic” do not need to quarantine, according to newly published guidance for fully vaccinated individuals in Tompkins County. Importantly, it does not apply to people who actually test positive for the coronavirus, vaccinated or not.

The new guidance was issued by the county health department, and follows similar guidance passed down by the CDC and the state Department of Health. It comes amid a rash of new cases that have been found over the last several days, at least partially due to the arrival of college students back to the area.

“Even though we’ve seen an uptick in cases and the number of vaccinated people becoming positive has increased, the data still show that if you are vaccinated, you are at a lower risk of getting or transmitting COVID-19. This guidance follows that provided by the CDC and issued by New York State,” said Public Health Director Frank Kruppa.

The announcement does additionally state that “fully vaccinated individuals exposed to a positive case should avoid contact when possible with those who are unvaccinated or immunocompromised.”

Kruppa continued, “We must continue to do our best to keep one another healthy, especially the most vulnerable individuals in our community — children under age 12 who are not eligible to be vaccinated and those who are immunocompromised or have a chronic disease.  Following a positive exposure, limiting close contact with unvaccinated or immunocompromised people is a way to prevent the disease from spreading to those most at risk for severe illness. We’re also clarifying that those who work closely with unvaccinated children or immunocompromised individuals may continue to do so but must also monitor themselves for symptoms, get tested, and continue to wear a mask and keep distance when they are able.” 

The following is additional guidance that was sent out by the health department regarding fully vaccinated people who are a) close contacts of a positive COVID-19 case and b) asymptomatic. Perhaps the most notable portion will impact teachers and school workers who are close contacts of a COVID-19 case, but don’t actually test positive. They will not have to quarantine and will be allowed to continue to work, despite the fact that children under 12 are not eligible to be vaccinated. They are encouraged, though, to mask and maintain six feet of distance.

·        Individuals who are exposed to a positive COVID-19 case, but are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic at the time of the initial contact tracing interview do not need to quarantine.  

·        The Health Department recommends the following actions be taken: 

  • Self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days after the exposure. 
  • Avoid contact with those who are at high-risk of severe disease from COVID-19: individuals who are immunocompromised; avoid visiting nursing homes, schools or other congregate living settings until the 14-day self-monitoring period is completed.  
  • This guidance does not preclude a fully vaccinated, asymptomatic close contact from working around immunocompromised individuals or children. Individuals working with immunocompromised individuals or children should wear a mask and keep six feet of distance whenever possible. 
  • If your household has unvaccinated members, wear a mask in the home and maintain distance. The unvaccinated individual will be more protected if they also wear a mask if unable to distance. Household contacts are at especially high risk of being infected.  
  • If you continue to work and go into public spaces please use a mask, social distance and use hand disinfection until your 14 days have passed. 
  • Get tested 3-5 days after exposure to a positive case using a PCR test. While over the counter at-home antigen COVID-19 tests have become available at pharmacies for purchase, TCHD recommends the more sensitive and accurate PCR tests. In the event that someone does receive a positive at-home test result, they should be immediately communicate with your primary care provider and TCHD (alert TCHD by calling 607-274-6604). 
  • If you become symptomatic, isolate immediately and call the Health Department for further instructions, 607-274-6604. 
  • If you are contacted by the Tompkins County Health Department as part of a contact tracing investigation, you should follow the instructions you are given. 

TCHD urges the community to continue to do the following: 

1.     Wear a mask when indoors and around others.  

2.     Get vaccinated when you are able 

·        Information onlocal vaccination is available on the Health Department website: https://tompkinscountyny.gov/health/covid19popup  

3.     Get tested if you have symptoms. 

·        Cayuga Health Mall Site location and hours: 40 Catherwood Dr., Monday–Friday, 8:30 am – 4:00 pm; Closed Sat. & Sun. The Sampling Site will be open on Monday, September 6 from 8:30 am – 4:00pm. For more information visit: https://tompkinscountyny.gov/health/factsheets/coronavirussamplingsite  

·        Testing is free and accessible to Tompkins County residents. If you do not have transportation to the Mall Site, please call 211 

§ While TCHD recommends the more sensitive and accurate PCR tests, over the counter at-home antigen COVID-19 tests have become available at pharmacies for purchase. All positive at-home test results should be immediately communicated with your primary care provider and TCHD (alert TCHD by calling 607-274-6604).   

·        COVID-19 symptoms are often similar to the common cold or can be mistaken for allergies. Symptoms include: 

·   Fever or chills 

·   Cough 

·   Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing 

·   Fatigue 

·   Muscle or body aches 

·   Headache 

·   New loss of taste or smell 

·   Sore throat 

·   Congestion or runny nose 

·   Nausea or vomiting 

·   Diarrhea 

4.     Monitor for symptoms, especially when traveling or if you attend a large gathering where precautions are not in place or followed. Remember the virus can also be carried by someone who is asymptomatic.  

Tompkins County will host a virtual COVID-19 update on Thursday, September 2, 2021 at 4:30pm. The update can be viewed live on You Tube, https://youtu.be/NFsW59Yi2To and will be archived at the same link. The update will answer frequently asked questions from the public and share information and perspective on recent cases, hospitalizations, and guidance.  

Matt Butler

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