December 4, 2021

Virus on rise locally

Cortland County positive cases spike 36% in 15 days

Kevin Conlon/city editor

Dave Basile, right, checks Owen Riley’s temperature Thursday before the Cold Brook lacrosse team’s non-contact practice at Randall Park in Cortland. The team uses hand sanitizer and disinfects equipment, too. Cortland County has seen a 36% spike in COVID-19 cases that county officials attribute to people between 17 and 30.

When Cortland city tattoo artist Josh Payne tested positive for the coronavirus, he immediately shut down the shop and called everyone he came into contact with.

“It sucks,” said Payne who owns the Alchemist Art Studio. “You feel guilty. You feel like you did something wrong. I had a lot of people who were straight-up angry and that blew.”

Payne said one other client reported testing positive.

“Which sucks,” he said, though how the person contracted it is unclear. “I hate it. Obviously, you can have it and not know you have it, which is exactly what my case was.”

And although he could’ve opened Wednesday he decided to wait until today.

“I figure giving it extra time won’t hurt,” he said.

Payne joins a growing number of cases in Cortland County in the past couple of weeks — a 36% increase in confirmed cases since July 2.

The increase has raised concerns with both residents and officials. A number of reasons could be behind the rise, said interim Health Director Lisa Perfetti. But the solution remains the same: Wash your hands, often and well; wear a mask; stay socially distanced.

Increasing numbers
Cortland County began seeing an increase of positive cases around July 2. On July 2 there were 50 positive cases. By Friday, there were 68 — a 36% spike.

Cortland County officials attributed some of the increase in a rising trend of younger people, particularly between the ages of 17 and 30, who have the virus.

“While many in this age group were asymptomatic, they are contributing to an increase in household contacts, which are often an older loved one,” stated a release issued earlier this week.

Perfetti said other factors could be contributing.

“Some people have recently traveled,” she said. “Some have been tested routinely prior to elective surgery. Some have mild symptoms and some have had no symptoms. Symptoms we have seen include cough and fever as well as chills, congestion and loss of taste and/or smell.

“We have an increase in the people being monitored (those in isolation and/ or Quarantine) due to the new travel advisory issued on June 25th by the Governor as well as the recent positive cases,” she added.

The increase could also be because SUNY Cortland students are returning to off-campus housing units, said Ruth Collins, an associate professor in Cornell University’s department of molecular medicine.

But with the reopening of businesses, officials stress that people shouldn’t ease up and businesses should continue following state guidelines.

“It’s so important to remember that this virus is not gone and the best defense we have at this point in time is to wear masks, maintain social distancing, wash hands frequently and stay home when feeling ill,” Perfetti said.

Easing on guidelines
Payne, owner of Alchemist Art Studio on Main Street, Cortland, already has many health regulations he needs to follow because of his profession. When tattoo shops were allowed to reopen, he not only had those rules in place, he added more, including having only the client inside the studio and not allowing food or drink in the area.

But he conceded he eased up and let clients bring other people. Now, after testing positive, he plans to crack down.

“We wanted to keep the spirit and energy high and look past some of the stuff, but obviously you can’t,” he said. “The fun of getting a tattoo is the atmosphere and the energy and stuff. Having friends with you is cool. In these times it’s not an option.”

He wasn’t the only one to ease up. When the virus first hit, downtown Cortland was creepily quiet, with many people staying home. As businesses have reopened, people have progressively left their homes.

“Speaking as a resident, I still avoid going out about town much in order to lessen the risk of coming in contact with the coronavirus,” said Todd Miller of Solon. “The virus is still out there. When I do go out, I typically go to the supermarket and hardware stores where I notice that most people are pretty good about wearing masks and keeping at a safe distance. Of course, there are a few people who don’t.”

Businesses play a part
At Walmart in Cortlandville, people sometimes wear a mask, sometimes not, although Walmart recently announced it will require everyone to wear one come Monday.

Dressing rooms are closed at stores, but people often don’t follow social distancing guidelines while shopping for clothes with someone in the same aisle. At Marshalls in Cortlandville, an employee stands outside and then just inside the door counting people and ensuring masks are on everyone who enters.

But even experts are baffled why people don’t follow guidelines more strictly.

“Very simple procedures can help stop the spread,” Collins said. “They’re well within the reach of everybody. I would love to know why people feel unable to do this.”

Miller said people who ignore scientists and science about wearing masks and other guidelines “are acting in a selfish and ignorant manner that is putting others at risk.”

But Collins said people can’t be forced to do things in America and will fight such requirements. So, how do you get people to work together to fight the virus?

Fighting the virus
“We know a lot more about how this disease is transmitted and we know a lot more about what we can control,” Collins said. “It is very unlikely that there will be a vaccine anytime soon.”

However, in order to really keep the virus from spreading, Collins said, people need to change their habits. Teenagers and young people, too.

She said she finds it hard to make sure teenagers are doing all they can to prevent the spread.

“If you pull out your phone, you’re touching your phone, then you’re putting something in your mouth,” Collins said.

But she said people can practice not eating with their hands and use a fork and knife instead when it comes to finger foods.

People also need to keep following the main three guidelines to — wear a face mask, wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds and maintain a 6-foot distance from others.

“An effective mask needs to be held in position around the face to be more effective,” she said. “The masks should cover both the nose and mouth. This mask-wearing will have to go on for quite some time.

She doesn’t understand why some people wear a mask, but don’t cover their nose.

“Because the mask doesn’t fit well?” she said. “They find it too bothersome?”

Not wearing a mask, washing hands or social distancing should become a social faux pas, Collins said to help stop the spread.

“At one time, everyone smoked, but now it’s a social faux pas,” Collins said. “These are things we’re going to have to do at least in the immediate term to engage and get working to decrease the positive cases.”

Still, that takes self-discipline and a trust in scientists and health experts.

“It seems so simple, but it’s so powerful,” she said.

The hardest part
Payne said people need to remember the world is not in a normal place.

“Respect the place we are in the world right now,” Payne said. “Taking an extra step to be healthy and protect the people around you — it’s not a bad thing.”

Tattoos aren’t life or death, he said, they can wait.

“Everybody just know: If you feel sick, get tested; if you feel off, stay home,” Payne said.

“The hardest part is self-control,” Collins said. She must remind her kids to eat their popcorn with a spoon so they don’t touch their mouths.

But remembering to change all your little habits or that you need to wash your hands more frequently is difficult.

“It’s very, very hard to say to yourself, ‘go wash your hands again,’” she said.

The virus targets the small details of everyday life, details people don’t often think about. It’s difficult to remember, she said. “You couldn’t devise a more cruel virus by design.”