COVID vaccine distribution is ramping up locally, as announced in a statement today by the Tompkins County Health Department.  Clinics held by Tompkins county this week are for individuals in the New York State Phase 1A category that are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Phase 1A eligible individuals include outpatient and ambulatory front-line, high risk health care workers that provide direct in-person patient care.  Others include home care workers and aides, including personal care aides and consumer-directed personal care workers and hospice workers.

Additional eligible Phase 1A personnel are staff of and residents of nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities and adult care facilities who have not already received vaccinations through the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-term Care Program.

Tompkins Public Health Director Frank Kruppa stresses that his department is ready to roll out the vaccine to thousands of county residents.  He adds that if individuals are eligible, they should register and get vaccinated.

The Schuyler County Health Department also says that any individuals in the Phase 1A category are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.  The Schuyler County health department plans to distribute vaccines and will be updating information about future vaccine clinics on its website at schuylercounty.us.

People included in Phase 1A can register on the Tompkins County Health Department web page to receive a vaccine at the clinics. Those will be held from 6:30 am to 3:30 pm, tomorrow, January 6 to this Friday, January 8 at the Shops at Ithaca Mall, 40 Catherwood Road.

There is no residency requirement to get vaccinated at a specific location. There is no cost or co-pay for the vaccine. If you have health insurance, you may be asked for that information, but it is not required.

Visit the Tompkins County Health Dept website for more information about vaccine clinics and eligibility groups.

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Tomorrow at 4 p.m. Tompkins County and Cayuga Health System officials will give the latest local updates on COVID-19, including local distribution of the vaccine. County Administrator Jason Molino, Public Health Director Frank Kruppa and Cayuga Health System's CEO Dr. Martin Stallone will speak at the event which will be live-streamed at the Tompkins County YouTube channel.

The Cayuga Health Care system includes the Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca and the Schuyler County Hospital in Montour Falls.

The three will answer questions submitted anytime up to the event or questions asked on the chat section at the time of the event. Dr. Stallone will also delve into Cayuga Health System’s hospital capacity, the local COVID sampling sites and more. View the update on the county’s YouTube Channel.

The town hall meeting will also be broadcast on WRFI-FM, streaming at wrfi.org, and on the airwaves at 88.1FM in Ithaca and 91.9FM in Watkins Glen.

Questions for the January 6th county town hall may be submitted during the event by using the chat feature. They may also be submitted in advance to Tompkins County's Communications Director Dominick Recckio via email at drecckio@tompkins-co.org.

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Now we’ll take a look at the local COVID-19 caseload. The number of hospitalizations due to complications from the virus are at 24 as of today, 7 less than last night. According to the Tompkins County health department, as of the time of our 6 p.m. broadcast there are 285 active cases of COVID-19. Today there were an additional 50 positive cases and 17 people released from quarantine.

In Schuyler County, today there were 7 new cases of COVID-19 reported. 61 active cases remain, according to their Health Department. 5 people remain hospitalized due to the virus.

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Watkins Glen and Odessa-Montour high schools plan to allow students to participate in two different low-risk winter sports, bowling and swimming, beginning this month.

In the new, abbreviated winter sports season, students will be permitted to practice their sport with their team. The Odessa File reports that those students will not be able to compete in person against students at different schools.  Instead, the students will do a swim meet or bowling tournament on their home turf, record times and scores and compare them with another team competing at their own school.

Watkins Glen High School athletic director Rod Weeden says that competition will look much different. However, the practice of competing virtually will help students work on achieving their personal best scores and times. Watkins Glen will also be fielding an indoor track team.

Superintendent Chris Wood of the Odessa-Montour Schools said their high school bowling and swimming teams would also be having virtual competitions with other schools.  He states that his high school would not be able to have an indoor track season because of budgetary constraints.

Weeden notes that once virtual competitions get underway, spectators may be able to watch remotely.

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New York State has reported its first case of a new and more contagious coronavirus strain that is widespread in the United Kingdom.

The case was identified in Saratoga Springs, just north of Albany. The infected patient is in his 60’s and reportedly did not travel recently, according to the Ithaca journal. Governor Andrew Cuomo said yesterday that this suggests the spread was in the community. Cuomo expressed concern, since the state is having the highest number of positive cases since the Spring.

The patient is associated with a jewelry store in Saratoga Springs, and so far is the only one to have the new strain. Several other workers at the store have tested positive for COVID-19. However, it is still unclear whether they’ve contracted the new strain as well.

As of yesterday, around 5,000 tests specifically looking for the new strain have been done in New York. This was the first sample that tested positive.

Contributing writing by WRFI Volunteer Esther Racoosin