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222 new COVID-19 cases in Onondaga County, highest yet; SU switches to online classes

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Onondaga County continues to see a record number of COVID-19 cases. County Executive Ryan McMahon announced 222 new cases on Wednesday. Most of the cases are from community spread. Sixty-one are known, but in 80 cases, the sources are unknown. There were 30 household contacts, four travel cases, two in senior facilities and two in group homes.

Out of the 222 cases, 17 are in K-12 schools and 66 are related to higher education. McMahon said for the first time, the virus is being spread in campus halls and dorms.

“With the dorms, with 100 or more people in there, those are a lot of opportunities for household cases there,” McMahon said. “This is the most challenging we’ve had with the virus on the campus of Syracuse University. It’s amazing that this is happening at the end of the semester.”

SU Chancellor Kent Syverud announced the university will stop in-person classes and switch to online for the remainder of the semester, after 102 cases of the coronavirus were reported on campus in the last two days. In a statement, Syverud said students should get tested if they are leaving campus. If students go home, the cases transfers out of Onondaga County to their home county. With the semester ending, McMahon anticipates those cases going away. He said there will be more high case numbers on Thursday. 

Fifty-three people are in the hospital. McMahon said hospitals are getting a lot better treating sick people quickly and getting them discharged. There were no new deaths.

Credit Onondaga County
Onondaga County
Parts of Onondaga County in the yellow zone.

Parts of Onondaga County are in a yellow zone micro cluster, which has restrictions on bars and restaurants and requires 20% testing of faculty, staff and students in schools.

“We are rearranging county government to meet this challenge,” McMahon said.

Some school districts in the yellow zone have sent out surveys to parents to see if they will allow their children to be tested.

Earlier Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced new restrictions affecting the entire state, including closing bars, restaurants and gyms at 10 p.m., and limiting gatherings to 10 people.

“My Thanksgiving plans are blown up,” McMahon said. “It’s the reality we’re dealing with.”

McMahon said one of the reasons they’re seeing such high numbers now is because the cases are reflective of what was happening 10-14 days ago. He blames Halloween parties and said it wasn’t just high school and college students.

“It was us,” he said, “There’s consequences of our actions now.”

He said the new state limitations are not surprising. The hospitality industry and gatherings are driving cases.

COVID-19 testing continues in Syracuse at the Regional Market, but people should preregister at ongov.net. The county is also doing asymptomatic, rapid tests of certain industries.

“We did over 100 tests, we found a positive,” McMahon said. “We found somebody that was going to go to work and likely spread it, asymptomatic. The program is working.”

The county executive emphasized there is light at the end of the tunnel when a vaccine is approved.

“We can get there,” he 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.