Coronavirus Update, May 20, 2020

In Tompkins County the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 increased by 4 Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases to 145. According to the Tompkins county health department, 1 person remains hospitalized for the virus. 118 of the positive cases have recovered, and over 7000 people have been tested in total. 

There were no new confirmed cases of the virus in Schuyler County as of Wednesday. According to health department officials 10 out of 12 people who were infected with the virus have recovered. Over 1110 people have been tested in total.

There are over 1500 new cases of COVID-19 in New York State as of Wednesday, bringing the statewide total to over 354,000, according to the state department of health.

New York Governor Cuomo has announced that as of tomorrow, religious gatherings of 10 people or less will be allowed in the state -- that is, where strict social distancing measures are enforced, and all participants wear masks. Also beginning tomorrow, drive-in and parking lot services will also be allowed. New York State is forming an Interfaith Advisory Council to discuss proposals to safely bring back religious services

An inmate at the Tompkins County jail has filed a lawsuit against the county and is looking for release from prison after the jail’s alleged inability to provide adequate medical care to them.

Joshua Conklin states that he suffers from bladder spasms as a result of a truck accident and that the condition causes him to experience periodic pain, according to the Ithaca Times. He alleges that the jail did not provide adequate medical care for his condition.

The lawsuit, submitted by Conklin’s attorney, asserts that on April 5, he told guards that he was in pain and that the jail guards treated him harshly.  After telling the guards that he was suffering, they moved him to a medical cell and threw him on his mattress.  Conklin adds that he had a seizure after that.  He also claims that a jail nurse improperly changed his catheter, leaving him incontinent. 

Sheriff Derrick Osborne and Tompkins County jail superintendent Ray Bunce are both named as defendants in the suit.  Osborne claims that Conklin has received excellent medical care in the jail.

The Ithaca Times has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for surveillance footage of Conklin’s jail cell on April 5, 2020.  The request was dismissed by the jail, on the grounds that, for security purposes, the jail does not distribute video footage of the inside of the jail.

Two major Ithaca building developments are scheduled to begin as Phase 1 of business reopening begins in the Southern Tier, according to the Ithaca voice.  Both projects are currently in the demolition phase. 

The first project is the demolition and reconstruction of the Chacona block in Collegetown, best known for being the previous space of Collegetown Bagels. The reconstructed building will create first floor retail space, along with fifty six student-oriented apartments. 

The second project is the West End Heights development which will consist of sixty new apartments on West Court Street in downtown Ithaca. Twenty of the sixty units will be dedicated to residents with a mental health diagnosis, with an additional ten units dedicated to people with a diagnosis who are also homeless. The remaining thirty units will be priced at an affordable housing rate. 

The Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit, or TCAT, says that they will continue their no-fare policy until at least the end of June, the Ithaca Voice reports.

In a press release, TCAT explains that the continued policy is meant to decrease the amount of time that passengers need to stand near the driver, and also prevent riders from having to put money into the fare box.  TCAT also hopes that this policy will help riders who are currently experiencing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The General Manager of TCAT says that the no-fare policy is open-ended because TCAT is not certain of what will be happening this summer with ridership. 

Riders must wear a face mask when entering and riding the bus.  People who cannot wear a mask for health reasons and children under the age of 2 are exempt.  Riders must stay at least 6 feet away from each other and only 20 people are allowed to sit in each bus. 

Summer service will begin this Sunday, May 24th with reduced scheduling due to severely decreased ridership.  The summer schedule will be in effect until at least late August.  For more information, listeners can go to

Last night, the Tompkins county legislature voted to purchase new COVID-19 testing equipment, and discussed the 2020 Census, among other items.

Legislator and Health and Human Services Committee Chair Shawna Black presented a resolution for the county to purchase COVID-19 testing equipment manufactured by Ithaca-based company Rheonix.  The testing machines would be used by Cayuga Medical Center to increase local testing capacity.  The resolution passed unanimously.

Amanda Champion, legislator and chair of the Government Operations Committee stated that because 2020 Census data reporting will be delayed, the legislature is considering altering the term length of legislators. Options for altering terms will be discussed at the next committee meeting on June 4th.

Champion also reported that registered Democrats in the county have been mailed applications to vote by absentee ballot for the State and Federal democratic primary.  She emphasized that absentee ballots are being more widely encouraged in order to facilitate physical distancing during voting.

County Administrator Jason Molino also updated legislators on the progress of local business reopening.  He shared that businesses will need to require that their customers wear a mask and provided guidance on how this policy will be enforced. 

According to the Odessa File, officials from the USDA forest service announced that they are temporarily closing overnight camping and use of restroom facilities throughout the Finger Lakes. 

This is in alignment with state and federal guidelines regarding the health and safety of visitors and workers during the pandemic.  The forest is urging people who are still visiting to take precautions like using the restroom before visiting the parks, and avoiding crowded areas. 

Contributing writing by WRFI News volunteer Esther Racoosin and News Intern Jon Donville