Tompkins County is reporting a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases. However, Ithaca College has not said if it will re-implement surveillance testing for vaccinated students, despite student concerns.
Tompkins County reported 130 new positive COVID-19 cases Aug. 31. The county also broke two COVID-related records Aug. 31. Tompkins County recorded the most active cases and new positives in one day. There are currently 368 active cases in the county. Previously, the highest number of active cases was 330 Jan. 8 and the previous highest number of new positives in one day was 62 cases reported Aug. 28. Ithaca College currently has eight active student cases — six residential and two off-campus students. There are five active staff cases. Cornell University reported 56 positives Aug. 29, 57 positives Aug. 28 and 44 positives Aug. 27. Ithaca College is not currently requiring surveillance testing for vaccinated students.
The Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD) released a statement Aug. 31 regarding the increase in cases. Frank Kruppa, Tompkins County public health director, said in the statement that the county is continuing to urge residents to wear a mask, get vaccinated for COVID-19 and get tested.
Kruppa also stated that there is a high vaccination rate at the colleges in the county. Ithaca College is reporting 99% of all students are vaccinated, Cornell University is reporting 95% of its on-campus population is vaccinated and Tompkins Cortland Community College is requiring vaccines for all students. Kruppa said many of the new cases are coming from close contacts, which is defined as spending more than 10 minutes within six feet of a positive individual.
“As people resume their normal activities and with the delta variant being more transmissible, we’re seeing more fully vaccinated individuals test positive,” he said in the statement. “A vast majority of the new cases we’re seeing are asymptomatic and we have not seen a relative increase in severe disease or hospitalization. Vaccines are working to keep people from getting severely ill.”
There are six active hospitalizations and there have been 34 county resident deaths since March 2020.
Cornell University announced that it will continue holding classes in person, despite the rise in cases. Cornell also moved its alert level from green to yellow, meaning there is moderate risk and cases are increasing.
Some Ithaca College students voiced their frustrations on Twitter, asking for the college to bring back surveillance testing or sharing COVID-19 violations they have seen on campus like students taking their masks off to sneeze.
One user wrote, “first class of the day and i’ve already seen three people not wearing their masks right. plus the girl in front of me just took off her mask to sneeze?! zoom university here i come”
Junior Isabella Basile tweeted, “@IthacaCollege please bring back twice-weekly mandatory testing!!”
Basile said she sent the Tweet because one of her classes had been canceled because her professor had a student test positive for COVID-19 in another class.
“If one of my classes was getting canceled because someone had COVID, then how many other people have COVID and we don’t know,” she said in an interview.
She said she also found out from other students that one of her professors is unvaccinated. Basile said she was frustrated that she and other students do not know which professors are vaccinated and which professors are not. She also said she thinks unvaccinated professors should have to notify students that they are unvaccinated.
“I personally don’t think that unvaccinated staff should have been allowed back,” she said. “I’m glad that students have to be vaccinated, but especially because you can’t have one standard of safety for your students and another for the professors.”
Basile also said she does not believe the college is handling the pandemic well this semester. She said she thinks all students should be tested for COVID-19 at least once per week.
Samm Swarts, assistant director for emergency preparedness and response in the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Management, did not respond to The Ithacan’s requests for comment regarding the college possibly reconsidering its current COVID-19 policies. At the All-College Gathering on Aug. 31, Swarts said vaccines and continuing to wear masks and distance when possible will help keep the campus community safe.