TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—What now appears to be the largest wave in Tompkins County since the COVID-19 pandemic began has continued to worsen, with the Tompkins County Health Department reporting 344 new positive tests, bringing the total number of active cases in the county to 772.

It’s easily the highest single-day positive test figure ever locally. It is largely made up of people from Cornell University, who announced yesterday that the Omicron variant had arrived on campus and that they have encountered “over 300” new positive tests in the last two days. While only two cases of Omicron have apparently been identified, it’s potentially the first confirmed Omicron variant outbreak in the United States.

Despite all of this, the severity of the illnesses that have been detected so far has largely been mild, according to Cornell at least. Ithaca College currently lists 42 active student cases, while Cornell hasn’t updated their dashboard beyond the 105 that was listed yesterday, a number that is sure to grow drastically when it is updated.

The health department reports that they have found “significant community spread,” meaning that “over 50 percent of cases are not able to trace where they may have been infected.” Spread is also being found in households, among families, and at gatherings, and as a result of holiday gatherings and travel.

“Spread from large gatherings or parties where precautions are not observed,” is also included, perhaps precluding questions about last week’s Winter Lights Festival, held on the Ithaca Commons.

“This unprecedented rise in cases will require all of us to do our part to stop further spread of COVID-19,” said Tompkins County Public Health Director Frank Kruppa. “These cases are resulting from regular, every-day activity, and while we want things to get back to normal, we have to do what we know works to stop the spread. Please wear a mask, avoid gatherings with others, and get vaccinated and boosted as soon as you are able.”

Hospitalizations remain quite low, as there are only nine people hospitalized with COVID-19 cases. Despite that, Kruppa said the spread is still troublesome, and said the health department is “encouraging residents to consider wearing a mask even while at home but mixing with different households of people.” Beyond that, he endorsed the immediate adoption of the new mask mandate put in place starting Monday by Gov. Kathy Hochul, told people to monitor themselves for COVID-19 symptoms and get tested, and to self-isolate if feeling sick.

“Our hospitalizations remain low and manageable, but we cannot continue to let the virus spread and impact those who are most vulnerable in our community including older adults and immunocompromised individuals,” Kruppa concluded.

Matt Butler

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