In the last week, Tompkins County continued on its pandemic record-breaking trend — surpassing over 200 active COVID-19 cases for the first time. Within those cases, there are stark race and age differentials: Both people between the ages of 10 and 29, as well as Black and Hispanic people, are overrepresented.
The first day of December saw the total case number pushed to 219, reaching 233 by Thursday. Alongside the spike, there were as many as 10 hospitalizations on a given day and three deaths attached to a cluster at Oak Hill Manor Nursing Home.
This community spread was one of the main concerns going into Thanksgiving break — one which proved realistic: More than half of Tuesday’s 34 new cases were connected to Thanksgiving gatherings and related travel, Tompkins County Public Health Director Frank Kruppa said in a press release.
This spike — which Kruppa has consistently called “unprecedented” — has also strained the Tompkins County Health Department workers, who are wading through wide networks to find and notify all close contacts.
“[W]e are seeing delays in our Health Department being notified of positive cases in those counties who may have close contacts or exposures here in Tompkins County,” Kruppa continued. “This has a ripple effect, causing delays in Tompkins County residents being notified to begin quarantine.”
But the results of Thanksgiving have yet to fully materialize, as it takes time for infections to take hold during an incubation period that can last up to two weeks before symptoms emerge. Then it takes time for tests to detect them and for results to be reported. Largely, though, experts predict that there will likely be a bump in cases, similar to the rises seen after Memorial Day and July 4.
In the past month, the cases have also converged onto a clear race differential. In mid-November, there was a spike in cases that resulted in double the case prevalence for Black and Hispanic residents compared to their respective population percentages, according to TCHD data.
As of Dec. 3, Black residents — who make up 4.6 percent of the county’s population — accounted for 7 percent of the positive cases. Hispanic residents’ disparity is slightly lower, making up 7 percent of the positive cases but 5.3 percent of the population.
Asian residents now represent just 4 percent of the cases, though they make up 10.2 percent of the total population.
This racial difference is on par with nationwide trends of racial and ethnic minority groups being disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
In fact, Black and Latino people have been harmed at higher rates in a manner that spans the country, throughout hundreds of counties in urban, suburban and rural areas, and across all age groups, according to federal data reported by The New York Times. These populations have been three times as likely to become infected as their white neighbors, and are nearly twice as likely to die from the virus as white people.
Residents in their 20s are also overwhelmingly overrepresented in positive cases, who, at just 24 percent of the population, represented 33 percent of all cases, according to TCHD data. Teens also are overrepresented, with 17 percent of the population representing 22 percent of cases.
Nationwide, there have also been fears that asymptomatic young people are helping to fuel the virus’ spread, with people in their 20s and 30s accounting for a growing number of cases in many places. This has been exacerbated by the reopening bars and restaurants, with young adults more likely to go out socializing, according to experts.
While young people have lower rates of hospitalization and death, they are clearly a risk for increased transmission — including to higher risk populations. This spread from younger people to older people is a particular concern in college towns, like Ithaca.
However, at Cornell, cases have continued to remain fairly low throughout the semester: It has reported only 269 total cases since the start of the semester.
This week, on an emptier campus after many students returned home for the semester, the University has reported just 24 positive cases — under 15 percent of the county’s 162 in the same period.