January 20, 2022

Cortland prepares for holiday virus surge

It’s been less than a week since Christmas gatherings and Cortland County is beginning to see an increase of coronavirus cases.

“Any time we see gatherings outside of the household, especially during the holiday season, we anticipate an increase in cases,” said Cortland County Public Health Director Nicole Anjeski on Wednesday.

The health department is organizing pop-up vaccination clinics in Marathon, Truxton and the city of Cortland until Feb. 5. The first clinic, Tuesday in Marathon, administered 249 doses, including initial and second doses and booster shots.

“Increasing COVID-19 vaccinations requires easily accessible vaccines and meeting people where they are,” Anjeski said.

The number of active cases has risen by more than 50 since Christmas Eve, county data show, as nearly 300 new cases have been confirmed.

“We are beginning to see an increase of cases from holiday events and gatherings, but also anticipate a spike in cases due to more over-the-counter testing — at-home tests — becoming available,” Anjeski said.

The latest variants of COVID-19 — Delta and Omicron — have broken through the vaccine barrier, but the vaccines do prevent severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“However, breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated are likely to occur,” the CDC stated in a news release Dec. 20. “The recent emergence of Omicron further emphasizes the importance of vaccination and boosters.”

The first vaccination clinics earlier this year were in the City of Cortland at SUNY Cortland and at times there were transportation issues, especially for those in the rural parts of the county, Anjeski said.

“Choosing these three areas for vaccination pop-ups will allow for community members in all areas of the county to have easier access, especially during the winter months,” she said.

In the weeks following the Thanksgiving holiday, Cortland County saw a fluctuation of positive COVID-19 cases — rising from 144 positive cases on Nov. 24 to 231 on Dec. 11.

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday that 13 new state testing sites have opened to address the holiday surge, including a site at the Moravia Fire Department in Cayuga County.

“As we get through this winter surge, we must remember we are not defenseless in our fight against the virus, and we need to use the tools at our disposal,” Hochul said in a release. “These new sites expand testing access in regions across the state and will be critical assets in our efforts to protect vulnerable New Yorkers.”

Hochul’s re-institution of a statewide mask mandate took effect earlier this month, however, Cortland County Legislature Chairman Paul Heider (R-Cuyler, Solon, Truxton) said Dec. 10 the county will not enforce the mandate, citing a shortage of resources.

After being publicly criticized, Heider sent a memo to county legislators on Dec. 16, reiterating that the enforcement should come from the state level.

“Our public health director, county administrator and myself all agreed that educating the public, as we have been doing throughout the pandemic, was the best way forward,” Heider wrote to legislators.

He said the county health department is already taxed by COVID contact tracing and does not have the staff to enforce the mask mandate.

Four days later, Hochul announced that $65 million in state funding will be available to help counties administer vaccines and enforce the maskor- vaccine mandate for indoor public places.

Although Cortland County has yet to see any confirmed cases of the Omicron variant, public health officials are asking residents to do their part in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

“We encourage everyone to wear a mask when in public places, avoid gatherings, get tested and stay away from others when you have symptoms, and get vaccinated and boosted as soon as you can,” Anjeski said.