TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—The COVID-19 pandemic marches onward, with a new set of developments as cases steeply rise both locally and statewide.

Governor Kathy Hochul, in response to growing case numbers and the arrival of the Omicron variant in New York, issued a mask mandate for businesses in New York that are not requiring patrons to be vaccinated to enter. In other words, the vast majority of businesses are now under a mask mandate in New York.

Details were a bit scarce at first, but have become more clear in the hours since Hochul made the announcement. The main gist of the order is below, and appears to include places like churches, temples, mosques and other places of worship.

Tompkins County has been under a mask advisory for several months, and while some counties in the state are threatening that they won’t enforce the mandate, Tompkins County seems amenable to it. Local health departments are being tasked with enforcing the rule, which goes into effect on Monday, Dec. 13, but the first week is intended for education. Hochul said the rule will be re-evaluated in mid-January to see if it can be ended or should be continued.

“Throughout the pandemic our businesses have done their best to abide by masking rules, and those efforts have helped to limit the spread. The entire state of New York is in a ‘High Transmission’ status according to the CDC, and we know that one of the best tools to limit spread is to increase mask-wearing in public places, which this State mandate is designed to do,” said Tompkins County Public Health Director Frank Kruppa on Friday. “This disease is still impacting people in our community, we have seen ongoing hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19. We’re asking that you wear a mask while around others indoors and get vaccinated as soon as you are able – these are safe and effective ways to reduce the most harmful impacts of COVID-19.” 

There was also a local COVID-19 update broadcast yesterday.

Separately, Cornell University announced that its threat level is rising to yellow, which means “moderate risk.” The school reports 90 active student cases, and an announcement from the school states that there have been 194 positive tests among the campus community over the last week. Ithaca College rose their campus alert level to yellow earlier this week.

“This is a significant increase, most notably among our student population, and is directly related to travel over Thanksgiving break and unmasked student social gatherings,” read the statement from Cornell officials. “The data are deeply concerning as we approach finals and the end of the semester.”

In response, the school has canceled all “university-sponsored student gatherings” indefinitely, and the school is “strongly [encouraging] students to avoid large gatherings off campus.”

Finals and other on-campus activities will continue as planned, with Cornell justifying that by stating that the cases are related to off-campus travel and gatherings instead of transmission in an academic setting. One bit of silver lining is that the school reports that no students who have tested positive have been hospitalized or encountered “serious illness,” which the school attributes to their vaccination mandate.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Managing Editor at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com