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After weeks of steady decline, COVID cases rise on campus.

March 5, 2021

COVID Weekly Update: Students Cases Rise as Tompkins Vaccine Rollout Ramps Up

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As students gear up for their first round of prelims almost a month into the semester, campus COVID cases have started to rise after two weeks of steep declines. 

Since Feb. 18, the seven-day running average of cases on campus has slowly risen, and more than half of the 41 positive cases are from students. At the same time, case counts at Ithaca College have remained low, while cases for Tompkins County residents have increased.

Overall, new daily cases in Tompkins County have decreased since Feb. 10 — the seven-day running average of new cases is approaching one-fifth of the case count in January, the peak of the pandemic. 

However, a growing proportion of the COVID cases are from Tompkins County residents, not from students at Ithaca College or Cornell — likely the result of access to COVID testing, as students at both colleges are tested twice a week, even if they aren’t symptomatic or suspected of exposure. Tompkins County residents have to seek out testing at testing locations that require appointments and only operate during normal business hours. 

While there are five Tompkins County residents for every one Cornell student, Cornell students alone account for 75 percent of the testing in the county. 

Tompkins County has also ramped up its commitment to getting residents vaccinated, releasing a vaccination registry to alert those who are eligible when there are available appointments. 

This past week, the county received 2,400 doses earmarked for seniors, people with comorbidities, in-person educators and 1B front line workers — which include first responders and grocery store workers. Those who signed up for the registry in these groups received an email, alerting them to the available appointments but were not automatically signed up. 

Just over 16,000 individuals in Tompkins County have received their first dose of the vaccine, which gives those vaccinated with a high level of protection against infection

Frank Kruppa, public health director of Tompkins County, estimated in a County Legislature meeting on Tuesday that 75,000 people in the county — about 75 percent of the population — would have to get vaccinated to reach herd immunity — the point when enough of a population is immune, either from vaccination or infection, that the virus does not have anyone to infect. 

As it stands, Tompkins County is about 20 percent of the way to its threshold for herd immunity, and the number of vaccines allocated to the county has increased from 600 doses on Jan. 25 to 2,470 on March 1, which could accelerate when the county reaches herd immunity.