December 8, 2021

Cuomo declares Cortland a micro-cluster

Governor links virus spread to college

Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared Cortland County a micro-cluster of coronavirus infection Tuesday afternoon, even as SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras came to SUNY Cortland to announce that remote-only learning at the college would be extended as coronavirus continues to spread across the campus and the county.

“… The County of Cortland had a 7 percent infection rate and there is at least one micro-cluster there that we are dealing with related to a SUNY school,” Cuomo said during his daily coronavirus briefing.

“We do so much testing and it’s so targeted that we can focus in on micro-clusters, small areas that generate higher rates of infection so we can focus on them,” Cuomo said. “Our micro-clusters have the higher infection rate in our state, but the rate of infection in our micro-cluster, our red zone, is lower than most states’ statewide number. The relativity is important here.”

The state’s “red zones” include Brooklyn Queens, Rockland and Orange counties, which have a positivity rate of 2.9%, Cuomo said. Cortland’s rate over the past two weeks exceeds that.

As Cuomo was speaking, Malatras was at a news conference with college President Erik Bitterbaum.

Following more than 150 positive COVID-19 cases at SUNY Cortland in the last two weeks, the school will remain on remote learning for the next two weeks, Malatras said. It has been remote-only since Oct. 7.

SUNY has been reviewing the school’s numbers with city and county officials, said that the 166 positive cases as of Tuesday were “higher than we’d like them to be.”

“There’s no way of sugarcoating it,” Malatras said. Cases at the school initially began this year mostly among off-campus students but spread via small groups, which he attributed to COVID fatigue.

“You’re seeing an uptick because of this issue, which makes us have to double down and re-double our efforts to say we are all missing our families and not gathering with our friends as much as we would like too,” he said.

Eric Mulvihill, clerk of the Cortland County Legislature, said the county has not received any word from the governor’s office or the state Health Department on the county’s high infection rate, the micro-cluster it is dealing with and what that will mean for the county.

“It is disappointing that Cortland County has been designated as a hot spot particularly since our numbers have been lower than surrounding counties for many months,” Mulvihill said in an email Tuesday afternoon.

Mulvihill said the county will have a news conference at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the County Office Building to address “enforcement of existing orders and regulations.”

Cuomo didn’t outline what being declared a micro-cluster would mean for Cortland — although he did say that new guidelines would be issued Wednesday regarding them.

“We’ll see this through the fall. Micro-clusters will pop up. We will attack them. We will abate them and another micro-cluster will pop up somewhere else and we will attack it and we will abate it and then another micro-cluster will pop up. Welcome to the fall. That is going to be what is happening.”

Earlier this month, Cuomo outlined three “zones” to target restrictions:

Red Zone — Cluster Itself

Houses of Worship: 25 percent capacity, 10 people maximum.
Mass Gatherings: Prohibited.
Businesses: Only essential businesses open.
Dining: Takeout only.
Schools: Closed, remote only.

Orange Zone — Warning Zone

Houses of Worship: 33 percent capacity, 25 people maximum.
Mass Gatherings: 10 people maximum, indoor and outdoor.
Businesses: Closing high-risk non-essential businesses, such as gyms and personal care.
Dining: Outdoor dining only, 4 person maximum per table.
Schools: Closed, remote only.

Yellow Zone — Precautionary Zone

Houses of Worship: 50 percent capacity.
Mass Gatherings: 25 people maximum, indoor and outdoor.
Businesses: Open.
Dining: Indoor and outdoor dining, 4 person maximum per table.
Schools: Open with mandatory weekly testing of students and teachers/staff for in-person settings.

“We hope to have a progress to announce tomorrow because you have seen progress in the numbers, which again validates the approach,” Cuomo said. “Nobody wants restrictions imposed — COVID-fatigue, we want open, get back to normal, but the only way to stop an ember from becoming a flame is by affirmative intervention.”