Tompkins County is seeing no to low new COVID cases. Numbers haven’t looked like this since August 2020.
So, where are we with the pandemic right now? It seems good, like we’re reaching a light at the end of a tunnel, as if that comparison isn’t used enough.
We have here a COVID update interview with Tompkins County Public Health director Frank Kruppa. We speak to him about the potential of a fall or winter surge, the behavior vaccinated and unvaccinated Tompkins County residents can resume, and so, without further delay.
[Jimmy Jordan] Frank Kruppa. Thanks for speaking with me today. Frank Kruppa you are the Tompkins County Public Health Director. We're going to be continuing a conversation that you started at the Tompkins County COVID-19 update on June 3. Since then, Governor Cuomo has made a sweeping announcement. On Monday this week, he said that once New York State reaches a 70% vaccination rate among adults, he is going to lift just about all of the COVID-19 restrictions in most settings. Not all, but many. New York State is just on the cusp of that 70% mark. According to the New York State COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker, Tompkins County is already past that 70% Mark. We're at 74.2%. So first question, what are we about to see change? What's Cuomo mean when he says, quote, virtually all restrictions will soon be lifted?
[Frank Kruppa] Yeah, I think what we're gonna see is, most all of the gathering requirements go away, limitations on density and a lot of different places. I think more broader opening of athletic facilities that, you know, that might have saunas or other things that have been closed. I think it's really just going to be getting back to almost pre-pandemic situations for everyone that's vaccinated. Unvaccinated folks, I think, are still gonna be be required to wear masks and and keep their distance. But I think generally speaking, we'll be able to get back to back to normal. You did mention some settings where it's not going to completely change. Schools will be a piece of that, healthcare settings, obviouslty there's some high risk folks there, nursing homes. But other than that, I think broadly, we're going to be we're going to be close to back where we were pre-pandemic,
[Jimmy Jordan] One of the statewide changes that Cuomo announced on Monday was that most settings won't have to submit information for contact tracing. Does that concern you at all? Or does it make sense?
[Frank Kruppa] Well, I mean, the good news is our case numbers are very, very low. And so we're we're not having to do a lot of contact tracing. So that's the good news. And, and a lot with so many people being vaccinated, those folks don't need to be contact traced. We don't place them in quarantine. So really the scope of individuals that we need to we need to contact trace is much, much smaller. And really the the inconvenience and, you know, just the the extra step of having to try to capture everyone that comes into every facility, I don't think the benefit outweighs you know, the the efforts that was taken. And we'll, we'll still do contact racing. Pur experience has been people now understand what that means. So when we talk to them, they can give us a pretty good idea of where they've been and who they've been in contact with. But in most settings, where people were collecting names, those wouldn't be close contacts, that we wouldn't be able to identify anyway. So we're not we're not super worried about that. And I think it does make sense at this point, as we start to reopen more fully,
[Jimmy Jordan] Something said in that June 3 Town Hall that really struck me, Amy Hendrix, the Deputy County Administrator, she said, I'm paraphrasing slightly, this opening up feels a little like it did when we were closing down because there are so many uncertainties. What are those uncertainties, the questions you're looking to have answered around this phase of opening up?
[Frank Kruppa] I think most of it is we just we don't know exactly what the governor is thinking. Yeah, he makes the statement that his press conference, but we don't really know the details until guidance is either rescinded or updated. And so you know, while we think we understand, you know, broadly what he means, and we can make some assumptions, until we know for certain, you know, we can't really say exactly what it's going to look like. And I think generally speaking, one thing that you know, we're all wanting to prepare for, is that I do think our disease numbers are going to stay very, very low this summer. That's good. But the thing we need to be prepared for is we are likely to see more cases in the fall. That's just the natural evolution of how these diseases cycle. But that's okay, because we'll have vaccinated people and there won't be a lot of spread. And if people do actually become positive, hopefully, if they're vaccinated, their experience will be a mild symptoms or rather no symptoms at all. So we will be better protected. So just want to prepare folks as we reopen. And that's really great news. But as we roll through the summer and into the fall, mow we do expect we might see some additional cases at that point. And we'll be monitoring it and react and communicate with our community about what we might need to do if anything, if and when that happens.
[Jimmy Jordan] That point you just brought up about seasonal surges with COVID, now that refers to a few questions that I have here, but there's something I want to ask you first. One of the big trends in COVID is announcements like the one that Governor Cuomo made the other day, it reaches everyone at the same time. So what you were saying makes me think this announcement reached you on Monday just like it did me in the news.
[Frank Kruppa] Yes, yeah, that is correct. We don't really get any forewarning. We're monitoring the governor's press conferences and react to what he says there and then try to help interpret for our community.
[Jimmy Jordan] Was there any kind of pivot that you had to make, as soon as you heard the news from that press conference?
[Frank Kruppa] No, I think we were all prepared that, you know, this is the path we're on is moving towards reopening. We didn't know exactly when it would happen, or what the thresholds would be to achieve that. But generally speaking, we've been gradually reopening. And because our disease numbers are so low and our vaccination rates are so high, we need to be moving towards being fully reopened. And it was just a matter of time until when we heard it from the governor. We just move forward from there.
[Jimmy Jordan] So going back to that subject I was trying to put a pin in earlier, seasonal surge. So variants, variants always come up. And what I read in here about seasonal surges, you know, the chance of there being a more serious surge is tied to the variants that the vaccines we have aren't as effective against. Now, we aren't seeing, you know, those dangerous variants like the Delta and South African variants in Tompkins County. So before we start talking about those potentialities, can you tell me what variants we see in Tompkins County?
[Frank Kruppa] Sure, we're extremely fortunate to have Cornell and Cayuga health systems here partnering to do genomic sequencing on our positive cases. So we do have some idea about what we've been seeing in our community. Predominantly now, our positive cases are are variants for the first third quarter of the year. It was a mixture of the B117, which was more commonly known as the UK variant. And then the B1256, which was the New York City variant, they were the predominant variants we're seeing over the last two or three months. That's really consolidated into almost all of our positive cases have been the B117. So we are now in a variant pool of cases here in our community. The good news is the vaccine does appear to work with the B117 variant. And that's the good news. But to the point, the reason we need everybody to get vaccinated, it's not just about protecting the individual from potentially getting ill, it's really about stopping transmission. Because every time that transmission occurs, it gives the virus another opportunity to mutate and what we don't want to have happen is a mutation occur, that one the vaccine is not effective against, two is more virulent, and three could cause more morbidity and mortality in our community. So that's really why everyone needs to get vaccinated. It's not just about us as individuals, it's about protecting us as a community. And so because we've done really well here in Tompkins, and hopefully, the rest of the state and country will continue on their path towards getting more people vaccinated, it will limit those opportunities for mutations to occur. Nobody has a crystal ball, and to tell you for certain if you do these three things, then you will not have any variants. But what we do know is the steps that we're taking are all designed to help prevent those mutations from occurring. And if we continue doing that work, hopefully, we'll get to a place where we have vaccines that are effective against the variants that are in our disease profile.
[Jimmy Jordan] You know, how are we better prepared now for something like a seasonal surge and COVID? Like what would happen in that situation and you know, what are you ready to do?
[Frank Kruppa] Sure. So I we we've been preparing for pandemics, certainly the health department for nearly 20 years now. And so, you know, for us, we knew much of what we used to do. But for our broader community, for the broader county government, we really had to bring them up to speed and thankfully in Tompkins County that went really well. And really what we're prepared for is, you know, whatever comes right, we understand how to do disease surveillance. We know how to control transmission through quarantine and isolation. We know how to do mass testing, we know how to do mass vaccination. So any or all of those components of this if we needed to stand up again, I think our community is poised and certainly our county government is ready and prepared to do whatever's necessary.
[Jimmy Jordan] Alright, Frank Kruppa, my last question for you, where have you found relief?
[Frank Kruppa] I think for me, there's two places. One is with my team. The folks here at the health department and the broader county response have been amazing to work with and just looking at the the dedication that they have to our community, it really gives you gives you energy. And then professionally as a public health person, the way our community responded was nothing short of amazing. We we told people what we thought, what we knew, and what we needed them to do, and they responded. I you you know, I watched the news and I see in other parts of the country and world where it's really an uphill battle for public health officials to get their communities to respond. But that wasn't the case here. And that really energized me, I think our entire team, to know that our community cared and wanted to do what was necessary to protect each other. And that really was that's really what's driven me through all of this.
[Jimmy Jordan] Great to hear. Thank you for just, you know, getting on the phone, taking some time and always keeping up this outreach.
[Frank Kruppa] Sure. Sounds good. Just let us know and we can help.