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Parts of Onondaga County upgraded to orange zone; new coronavirus restrictions begin Wednesday

The city of Syracuse and parts of Onondaga County have been upgraded to an orange zone, which means more coronavirus restrictions

Onondaga County is navigating a complicated combination of state regulations because of increases in COVID-19 cases. The state-designated yellow zone has changed, and parts of the city of Syracuse and some other towns have advanced to the more serious orange designation.

These COVID designations are all about the zip codes. That’s how the state is determining who’s in a yellow zone, and who’s in an orange zone. And Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said it can be confusing, so the county is ramping up testing in certain zip codes, like parts of Syracuse, Manlius and North Syracuse.

“The positivity rate is what they’re looking at in each zip code. So sometimes when you have a zip code that’s a big area, you have a problem at one end and not another end,” McMahon said. “And it’s very difficult to work through that. It’s why we are taking testing approach into the zip codes, to get a better sense what’s going on in the community and see if those rates are true.”

And there’s a big difference between orange and yellow designations. The orange zone, which includes the city of Syracuse, means more restrictions on indoor dining, houses of worship, gyms, barbers and salons. 

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh said Monday he’s trying to convince the state that gyms, barbers and salons shouldn’t be on that list.

“I asked the governor’s team to reconsider whether those businesses should be considered in the orange zone for closure. That’s worth exploring,” said Walsh. “We have a much better sense now what continues to spread and what doesn’t.”

The change to orange also affects schools. All schools in the orange zone must switch to remote learning for four days. But because of the Thanksgiving holiday, that may not be an issue for some schools.

Underlying all the discussion of maps, zip codes, and testing, is a concern that the holiday season may further ramp up COVID rates. Onondaga County Health Commissioner Dr. Indu Gupta is imploring central New Yorkers to keep holiday gatherings small, and remember this is only a moment in time. Compared to the early part of the pandemic, she sees light at the end of the tunnel.

“A treatment has been approved, three vaccines are on the horizon, from three different companies, which have good efficacy,” Gupta said. “There is hope. And that’s what we need to think of as we go into Thanksgiving.”