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Dining restrictions, more school testing as Syracuse, parts of Onondaga County in yellow zone

Onondaga County
A map of the yellow zone in Onondaga County.

The City of Syracuse and parts of Onondaga County will have new restrictions put in place on Wednesday because of the area’s rising COVID-19 infection rate. The restrictions include new limits on bars, restaurants and an increase in school testing.

On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced parts of Onondaga, Erie and Monroe counties will now be in the “yellow zone” of New York State’s micro-cluster strategy. The new restrictions means bars and restaurants can only stay open until midnight. Only four people will be allowed at a table for dining. Gatherings will be limited to 25 people. And 20% of faculty, staff and students have to be tested weekly, for schools to continue in-person classes. Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon called that a tremendous undertaking that will require thousands of tests.

“It’s worth the work to keep our kids going to school," McMahon said. "It’s been a safe school year, but it will require cooperation.”

Parents have to give their permission for students to be tested with a rapid, 15-minute nasal swab test. Six municipalities and seven school districts are in the yellow zone in Onondaga County. Syracuse University announced it is going to remote learning next week.

McMahon said the numbers seem to be stabilizing, but there were still 120 new cases and a seven-day rolling average at 2.6% in the county.

“Now it’s our job to starve the virus, move the numbers down,” McMahon said. “We need these numbers down by the end of the month, going into the winter months, when there will be more pressure on us.”

McMahon said they’ll see if numbers go down in a week to reassess the yellow zone status. 

“After a week, you take a hard look, if things are going in the right direction, things are getting better after seven days’ worth of data, then that municipality has an opportunity to leave the yellow zone,” McMahon said.

The municipalities affected include the City of Syracuse, East Syracuse, Solvay, Clay, Lysander, and Salina. The school districts affected include Syracuse city schools, ESM, Solvay, Lyncourt, Baldwinsville, Liverpool and parts of North Syracuse in the 13090 zip code. Private or charter schools in those districts also need to participate.

McMahon said the announcement on Monday that Pfizer has developed a vaccine to COVID-19 with 90% efficacy, is great news, saying there’s “light at the end of this tunnel.”

“The challenge is, we need to get from here to there in a way where we protect our community’s vulnerable and keep our economy open,” McMahon said.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.