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McMahon: February break may be the reason for spike in COVID-19 cases in CNY

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News (file photo)

The state health department announced this week that it is closely monitoring the rise of COVID-19 cases in central New York. The seven-day positivity rate for the region as of Wednesday was 8.6%, compared to a statewide average of 2.45%. Central New York’s positivity rate is also about 5% higher than any other region in the state.

While it’s not clear what’s causing this uptick, Onondaga County officials have some ideas. February break could be one of the reasons for the local increase, according to Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon.

“We had individuals in a community that we know went away for February break,” McMahon said. “Our speculation is, based off of where we saw concentrated cases geographically, that these individuals probably brought the BA.2 variant to the community. You saw rapid spread in certain towns."

Those towns included northern suburbs of Lysander, Clay, and Cicero, which McMahon said could also be responsible for higher case counts in Oswego County, which borders those towns. McMahon said there also could be one other variable that hikes Onondaga County numbers. Not all counties report at-home tests to the state, but Onondaga County does.

"You do have a higher number of cases here still, but certainly, if you’re not reporting at-home tests in other communities, you’re cooking the books,” he said. “So that’s part of it."

In a news release, the state health department said it is reviewing all potential explanations for the uptick, noting "local vaccination rates, mask-wearing and adherence to other mitigation efforts may play a role in central New York’s rates.”

One thing is clear, the highly contagious Omicron subvariant known as BA.2 is the dominant version of the virus, accounting for 60% of the cases in central New York. While McMahon urges continued testing, vaccine boosters and masks for anyone who is concerned about the uptick, he expects numbers to go down, especially as weather gets warmer.

“We know what an emergency feels like in this pandemic,” McMahon said. “An uptick in cases because we have a new contagious subvariant of Omicron is not something anyone should be panicking about right now."

Onondaga County reported 346 new cases Wednesday, with 40% coming from positive at-home tests.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.