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Coronavirus Containment at Cornell and in Tompkins County

This is a transcript of Izzy Frabotta's segment on Talk of the Town: After Hours on Oct. 3.


On Cornell University’s Ithaca campus, COVID-19 seems to be largely under control. In an article published in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, September 30th, President Martha Pollock and Provost Michael Kotlikoff spoke about the current success of the university’s response plan, touting an “extraordinarily low rate of infection” and a program that tests “more than 30,000 individuals per week.” According to Cornell’s COVID tracking dashboard, daily positive cases this past week have been hovering around zero to one, and quarantine room availability is sitting at a comfortable 98%. Remarkably, this low positivity rate and general spirit of optimism come less than one month after the identification of a 39-person cluster linked to student gatherings where behavioral guidelines were ignored. The swiftness with which this cluster was contained bodes well for Cornell’s plan to continue providing in-person instruction until Thanksgiving break. In comparison, how are the larger communities of Tompkins County, New York state, and the nation as a whole faring?

test tubes in a lab

Data provided by the Tompkins County Health Department, or TCHD, shows zero active COVID-19 hospitalizations and 21 active cases as of October 1st. For a population of roughly 103,000 people, these numbers are impressive, and reflect the robust testing and tracing efforts performed by the essential workers of the TCHD and Cayuga Health Services, and of the concerted masking and distancing efforts made by the citizens of Tompkins County. Still, it is important to recognize that COVID remains a threat to the community. On September 30th, it was announced that an employee of the Cascadilla Street GreenStar grocery store tested positive for the virus. According to Brandon Kane, general manager of the location, the employee is not believed to have had contact with the public, is in isolation, and all individuals believed to have been exposed have been contacted by the TCHD. Kane reiterated that the employees of GreenStar locations follow all safety protocols required by public health authorities, including regular cleaning and mandatory masking.

Despite this incident, Tompkins County and the Finger Lakes region are faring better than other areas throughout the state. From September 28th to the 30th, the Finger Lakes region had an average positive test rate of 0.6 percent. Comparatively, the Mid-Hudson region’s average was 2.4% and the Long Island Region’s was 1.2%. Meanwhile, despite a slow downward trend, the U.S. is still recording an average of about 42,000 new cases per day. Among these new cases is President Donald Trump, the First Lady, and senior presidential aide Hope Hicks, who were diagnosed following Tuesday’s debate. The White House reports that both President Trump and the First Lady are showing “mild symptoms” and will be quarantined for at least two weeks.

Clearly, Tompkins County residents must remain vigilant and adhere to New York state’s recommended personal hygiene guidelines. In particular, college-age individuals must remember to stay safe and do their part to protect others, as individuals ranging from 20 to 29 make up a disproportionate number of total positive cases in Tompkins County. But both on and off campus, there is room for cautious optimism. Even as other universities, such as Notre Dame and the University of Alabama battle flare-ups and hotspots, Cornell appears, for the moment, to be exceeding expectations.

As a reminder, any Tompkins County resident wishing to be tested can do so for free at the drive-up testing site at the Shops at Ithaca Mall, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM. Schedule your test by visiting, or by calling 607-319-57088. Individuals showing symptoms, such as a dry cough, fever, or a new loss of taste or smell, should immediately contact their primary care physician or the Cayuga Medical Center Convenient Care Clinic at 607-274-415016.

As we head into one of the most unusual cold and flu seasons in recent memory, our individual and collective efforts will determine whether we can keep the COVID-19 threat under control.


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