Michael Suguitan / Sun Staff Photographer

A sign reminds Ithaca Commons passerby to mask up. Tompkins County is seeing the highest levels of community spread since the beginning of the pandemic.

November 30, 2020

Tompkins Records Case Highs, Resident Deaths Through Thanksgiving Week

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As most Cornell students have left the Ithaca area until spring, coronavirus cases have dwindled on campus — but across Tompkins County and throughout the nation, case numbers are soaring to record highs. 

The county reported its highest ever seven-day average for new positive cases and the most active cases in a given day, during the Thanksgiving week when the virus also claimed the lives of three county nursing home residents.

A recent outbreak at the Oak Hill Manor Nursing Home in Ithaca was the largest single cluster county has seen since the pandemic reached American shores — infecting 52 residents and staff members, the Tompkins County Health Department reported Saturday.  

The cluster contributed to Saturday’s 188 total active cases — which surpassed the previous record set on Nov. 20 by 30 cases. These active cases are part of the 233 total new cases over the past 10 days in Tompkins County, including the nine people hospitalized as of Sunday. 

“We’re seeing the highest levels of community spread in Tompkins County since the beginning of the pandemic,” Tompkins County Public Health Director Frank Kruppa said in a Sunday statement. “It’s imperative that we all carefully consider our actions to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and to keep one another healthy.” 

This recent spike in cases comes as the virus rages across the country: A spate of new travel-related infections — over 100,000 new cases on Sunday for the 27th consecutive day — has inundated hospitals that are already overwhelmed. According to the Covid Tracking Project, hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients grew to a record high of 93,219 on Sunday. 

Public health experts have long been adamant that the winter months will demand the most vigilance and caution — as the cold forces people to stay inside, avoiding new waves of cases becomes all the more difficult.

Dr. Anthony Fauci M.D. ’66, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, warned on Sunday that the U.S. may see “surge upon a surge” of coronavirus cases in the weeks after Thanksgiving, a threat that looms especially large during flu season.

On the Hill, Cornell has returned to a green alert level, as many students have dispersed home for break and to complete the remainder of the fall semester online. Thanksgiving week reported a 0.12 percent positivity rate and 27 new positive cases. 

Cases on campus have remained relatively low throughout the semester as universities nationwide have shut down and changed course, with some reporting case numbers as high as 5,000. Cornell has reported 251 total cases since the University started reporting numbers on Aug. 13. These cases account for under a quarter — at 22.8 percent — of the county’s 1,100 total cases since March.

In November alone, Cornell has reported 91 positive cases, accounting for 36 percent of the total cases on campus. Earlier in November, cases climbed at Cornell just before the last day of in-person classes

For Cornellians remaining in Ithaca through the end of the semester on Dec. 21, Daily Check and surveillance testing requirements remain the same — plus added travel guidelines for those returning after the break. But with overall decreased need, all surveillance testing locations will only be open on weekdays, and the ILR Conference Center and Sage Chapel sites will be closed.

But the virus is far from gone in Tompkins County, with the health department reporting more frequent potential public exposures, including at the Ithaca Ale House and TCAT’s Route 32 bus.

“This is an unprecedented spike of cases in Tompkins County,” Kruppa said in a Saturday press release. “Consistent days of 20 plus new cases puts a strain on our healthcare system and increases the potential for community spread. … We know how to stop the spread in our community and urge everyone to act with caution and vigilance.”  

Madeline Rosenberg ’23 and Kathryn Stamm ’22 contributed reporting.