ITHACA, N.Y.—The Jan. 12 Health and Human Services Committee meeting addressed continuation of funding for school COVID-19 testing and received a health update from Public Health Director Frank Kruppa.

The meeting began with resolutions including the designation of a Community Development Block Grant Environmental Certifying Officer, which was unanimously passed, as well as the unanimous approval of a budget adjustment for the New York State Public Health Corp Fellowship Program. Another budget adjustment to the COVID-19 ELC School Grant allowed the health department to continue school testing which resumed after a brief pause last year, something Shawna Black, chair of the committee as well as recently appointed chair of the Tompkins County Legislature, said has been helpful in Ithaca City schools as it’s been able to catch some positive cases in the school community.

Following the resolutions, Public Health Director Frank Kruppa spoke to the committee explaining that while there has been some confusion on COVID-19 guidance changes on both federal and state levels, the Tompkins County Health Department will clarify its changes as soon as possible once further guidance on the state level is made available. The health department’s last official update is detailed here.

Gov. Kathy Hochul and Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said Tuesday at a press conference that contact tracing efforts will be discontinued while the state focuses on testing and vaccination.

Kruppa said that the actual guidance on standing down contact tracing operations is not yet clear but that when it is, TCHD will implement the new guidance. Kruppa also said that there are several reasons why contact tracing is no longer a helpful defense — in part, he said, due to the transmissibility of the Omicron variant and its potential for infection two days prior as well as three days following symptom onset, meaning that infected individuals wouldn’t necessarily even know they were transmitting it. The reduction of quarantine time from 10 to five days also renders contact tracing ineffective.

“Science around the disease is driving the shift at this point,” he said, explaining that TCHD will be focusing its efforts on vaccinations and helping senior and other vulnerable populations. “Hopefully we’ll get to the point where there are no specific COVID public health measures other than traditional stay home when you’re sick, cover your cough, wash your hands often.”

Deana Bodnar, deputy commissioner at Tompkins County Department of Social Services, supplied recent data including an increase of individuals utilizing shelters under the Code Blue program due to the colder temperatures in the past few weeks, out of 116 individuals sheltered, 74 were in the Code Blue program. There has also been an increase in people applying for SNAP benefits.

Bodnar also discussed NY Rentals Supplement Program, a new New York state program to help districts allocate rental supplements to low-income families for a 12-month period. She said that each district can develop its own eligibility requirements and that the committee will be sending it to the state sometime in February.

This meeting concluded both Black’s term as chair of the Health and Human Services Committee and Kathy Schlather’s term as executive director of the Human Services Coalition of Tompkins County.

CORRECTION: A previous headline version stated the testing funding was continuing in Ithaca City schools. The headline has been updated.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...