October 23, 2021

County mulls new initiatives on virus

coronavirus particles

Cortland County is working on a unified system for mask complaints and creating messaging geared toward younger people after the county saw an increase in both positive COVID-19 cases and those being monitored, officials announced Thursday.

“Our hotline has seen a significant increase with questions and business complaints around the mask requirements,” Lisa Perfetti, the interim director of the County Health Department, said Thursday evening during a Legislature meeting.

She also said the majority of businesses are doing their best to enforce mask guidelines, however, the county has seen a 60% increase in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases since the first days of July — 30 new cases so far this month.

Messaging for younger people about the virus, using younger people is also in the works, said Legislature Chairman Paul Heider (R-Cuyler, Solon, Truxton).

“When a youth gets COVID, he brings it back to his parents and his grandparents, so those are major concerns for our county,” he said.

However, Heider declined this morning via email to give additional details about the two initiatives.

“I am off today and so unfortunately I will not be able to further explain,” he said.

The county’s number of positive cases has increased from 49 at the June Legislature meeting to 80, Perfetti said. There has also been an increase in people being monitored — which includes people both in isolation and quarantine.

“Quarantine can be close contacts that have been identified of a positive (case) and now we have travelers that are being quarantined,” Perfetti said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has issued an executive order placing 31 states on a travel advisory list, meaning anyone who is visiting from one of those states or visited one of those states must be quarantined for 14 days when returning to New York.

Here are some other updates she gave:

  • Social gatherings — “Recently, we’ve identified several cases that can be traced to social gatherings beginning with the Fourth of July weekend,” she said. “We have positive cases due to exposure from a traveling family member, who was visiting their family here, one from another county and one from another state — although that state was not on the travel ban list. One of these resulted in more than 10 close contacts needing to be quarantined. We have at least two cases connected to a recent Tioga county wedding outbreak. There are several cases in that one.”

County health officials are asking that people limit their social gatherings after seeing an uptick in cases related to such activities. Perfetti said more younger people — particularly between the ages of 17 and 30 — are testing positive and that’s an age group that tends to socialize more.

“We must be diligent in our community determination to prevent the same increase after Labor Day, especially considering schools will be planning to open,” she said.

  • Showing symptoms — More people are now showing mild symptoms, although few of the positive cases have a fever as a symptom. She said this is different from the first cases, the county saw where most positive cases had no symptoms.
  • Lab delays — Perfetti said it is taking longer to get lab results.

“This can result in a delay in case investigation and contact tracing,” she said. “The labs are saying the longer timeframe is due to an increased workload. We continue to ask that people who are tested self-quarantine to the best of their ability until their results are in.”

She also said that phone calls to people being monitored are taking longer because of an “increase in questions and general annoyance at the isolation and quarantine requirements.”

  • Rapid testing — Although some physicians offer rapid testing, it is not readily available, Perfetti said.
  • School collaboration — Perfetti said she had been in touch with every school district and SUNY Cortland about their reopening plans, including participating Thursday in an exercise with college officials on their plan.

“We’re very concerned with the fact that SUNY Cortland is not going to require testing of students before they come on-site,” said Legislator Beau Harbin (D-Cortland). “They’re also not, like Ithaca College, going to require students to quarantine ahead of time once they arrive from states that are on that 31-state list.”

Harbin asked what Perfetti’s thoughts were on the college’s plan and if it was adequate.

“I think like with all plans there’s always ongoing work to be done,” Perfetti said. “I don’t know the benefit of testing because testing only tells you the day in that moment in time and they may test positive the next day. The benefit to quarantine is the better benefit. My understanding is people coming from states that are identified as a travel ban are required to quarantine for 14 days, as well as foreign travelers.”

“Do you know if the students are going to be required to quarantine here in Cortland or are they going to be required to quarantine outside of the state before they travel to the state? Harbin asked. “It was unclear in their plans.”

“It continues to be unclear,” Perfetti replied. “They are working on that as a case-by-case basis. I think that reopening of schools is very scary.”

She said the college has 64 beds on west campus for on-campus students to use if they must quarantine.

“It can be quickly overwhelming if several kids need to be isolated and quarantined — that was identified this morning,” she said.

She also said the idea is that it’s expected that off-campus students will be able to properly quarantine in their apartments.

Legislator Kelly Preston (RHomer) raised concerns about the delay in notifying people about a potential exposure at a Dollar Tree store.

“It’s almost like it’s too late,” Preston said, noting the notification came seven to eight days after the cashier had been working at the store.

“It’s not too late because the time frame is 14 days from your exposure,” Perfetti said. “We notify the public the day we find out. Again this is the concern with the delay in the lab and out delay identifying people.”

Perfetti also said the exposure was considered low risk and that is why people aren’t required to quarantine but watch for symptoms.