There are now three different variants of COVID-19, all of which are more contagious or severe than earlier variants, in Tompkins County.
In a March 22 statement, the Tompkins County Health Department announced that cases of the U.K. variant, the New York City variant and the Southern California variant of COVID-19 have been sequenced in Tompkins County residents.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.K. variant was first detected in the United States in December 2020 and was first detected in New York state Jan. 4. As of Feb. 22, there have been a total of six cases of the U.K. variant in the county. The health department announced the first case Jan. 15. Another three cases were identified Feb. 3.
The U.K. variant is a more contagious variant of COVID-19. In January, experts in the U.K. stated that this variant may be associated with an increased risk of death compared to other variants of COVID-19, but more studies are needed to confirm this finding, the CDC stated.
The New York City variant was first found in November 2020 and may both be more contagious and affect the infected more severely. The Southern California variant is also more contagious than other strains of COVID-19. The COVID-19 vaccines are less effective against both of these variants.
“At this time, we are not asking the community to do anything beyond the current guidance to respond to the presence of these variants,” said Frank Kruppa, Tompkins County public health director, in the statement. “Vaccination, mask-wearing, hand–washing and distancing are still our most important tools to ensure less opportunity for variants and mutations to occur and spread.”
The department is also alerting residents about an increase of COVID-19 cases in the county. As of March 22, there are 150 active cases in the county and 3,739 total positive cases since March 2020.
“While we’ve vaccinated nearly one-third of our residents, the disease is still present,” Kruppa said in the statement. “We have to do what we know works to stop the spread. … While more people are allowed to gather under new guidance, it doesn’t mean that you can stop wearing masks and keeping distance. We’re seeing COVID-19 spread at private gatherings.”
The New York state government recently relaxed its COVID-19 restrictions surrounding gatherings. As of March 22, 100 people can attend indoor social gatherings in public spaces, and 200 people can attend outdoor gatherings. The guidelines allow 10 people to gather indoors in residential spaces and 25 people to gather in outdoor residential spaces.
The department asked for everyone who is eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccines to sign up to get vaccinated. Currently, this includes those in phases 1a and 1b. Those who are over 50 and reside in New York, first responders, those with comorbidities, and in-person college faculty and essential in-person staff, among others, are eligible to receive the vaccine.
There are currently three active COVID-19 cases at Ithaca College, with 235 total cases since August 2020. Testing for the spring semester at the college is done through a saliva self-collection process. Samples can be dropped off by 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday at the Athletics and Events Center, the Campus Center and Terrace 13. Symptomatic members of the campus community are not allowed on campus and should seek testing at The Shops at Ithaca Mall sampling site or downtown sampling site.