OSWEGO — The rise in COVID-19 cases in Oswego County continues to accelerate, reaching 900 total 2020 cases Monday as the virus is infecting more than 100,000 people in the U.S. each day and New York is seeing the highest number of daily cases since early May.
The Oswego County Health Department reported 29 new positive cases of the coronavirus on Saturday and another 47 on Monday, with cases now rising faster in the county than any time other than mid-September when an outbreak at SUNY Oswego saw more than 200 cases in 15 days. The 47 cases reported Monday represent the highest in a single day since Sept. 12 when 42 cases were reported.
Oswego County Public Health Director Jiancheng Huang said health officials have "seen a drastic increase" in positive cases of COVID-19 in the past few days. Huang said many of the cases are related to social gatherings held seven to 10 days ago, and clusters of the virus originate in families, households and other small groups but can then spread fast through social gatherings.
"We need to realize that the cases reported today reflect our activities from one to even two weeks ago," Huang said.
Cases reported by the county Health Department on Monday were recorded in the cities of Oswego and Fulton in addition to 11 towns across Oswego County.
"COVID-19 is still in our communities," Huang said. "We need to enhance our preventative actions now to limit the spread of the virus. We must avoid non-essential gatherings, practice social distancing, wear our face coverings and wash our hands frequently."
According to the county Health Department, 944 total cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in the county since testing started in mid-March. Health officials reported 105 active cases of the virus in the county as of Monday, the highest number since Sept. 21 when 101 active cases were reported. The highest number of active cases reported was 140 on Sept. 15.
The accelerated cases in Oswego County follow regional and national trends. Neighboring Onondaga County was recently added to the state's list of micro-cluster focus zones based on testing results and hospitalization rates, while New York has reported more than 3,000 new cases per day each of the past four days, a daily number threshold that hadn't been surpassed since May 6 prior to the state's reopening of Phase 1 industries.
"COVID is surging across the country and the globe, and we expect the rates will continue to go up through the fall and into the winter," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday. "I know people are tired and COVID fatigue is real. But the virus isn't tired."
Acquiring a vaccine and administering it "quickly, fairly and equitably" is the long-term objective, Cuomo said, but in the meantime state and local officials must manage the increase in cases with more testing and targeted restrictions, such as the micro-cluster zone designations.
"The red, orange and yellow zones are our way of saying the virus is making headway and we're going to increase restrictions and we're going to increase enforcement," Cuomo said. "When we see a small increase, we attack that small increase and the numbers show it works. If we stay smart and disciplined, we can manage this."
Onondaga County was named a yellow zone, the lowest level of concern for the state's micro-cluster zones.
With cases rising, Oswego County health officials in the past week have warned of potential COVID-19 exposure in a series of public venues, most recently at the Altmar Hotel on Nov. 5-6 and the Whoosah Lounge in Fulton between Oct. 30 and Nov. 4.
Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow confirmed Monday a positive case of COVID-19 was discovered within the Oswego Police Department, but after testing all staff members on the shift it thankfully was an isolated case, he said. Barlow noted it was not the first case in city government and likely wouldn't be the last, adding the city has contingency plans in place for such events.
"We adapt and adjust, and we're looking out for our employees and the public," Barlow said Monday.
County health officials have said the positive cases reported Monday and over the weekend indicate COVID-19 is continuing to spread across Oswego County.
Oswego County Medical Director Dr. Christina Liepke said many of the new cases continue to be linked with individuals who attended Halloween gatherings and their family members.
"Anyone who participated in Halloween activities who is now experiencing symptoms needs to be tested for COVID-19," Liepke said in a statement over the weekend. "Anyone who is tested should self quarantine, or stay home, until they receive their test results."
Huang used the term "post-Halloween" to describe the recent outbreak, and said the more than 70 cases reported by health officials over the weekend is the result of "community wide spread" that was amplified by spooky gathering.
Huang encouraged individuals to take action immediately and follow preventative measures to contain the spread.
"We need to do it now," Huang said. "Because the number reported to us today was our activity 10 to 15 days ago, so we need to take action now."
With planning for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday well underway, Huang and others have encouraged people to be cautious and make smart decisions
"People need to consider current events and make wise decisions on how to get family together," Huang said, adding people should "reduce unnecessary social gatherings."
Cases in Oswego County are now are growing nearly as fast as they did during the mid-September outbreak largely attributed to the SUNY Oswego community, and far faster than any other time before or since. Oswego County recorded its 900th case Monday less than a week after hitting 800 cases.
The surge in cases comes at the same time as positive news about a potential COVID-19 vaccine. Though still likely months away, drug maker Pfizer on Monday said its COVID-19 vaccine candidate could be 90 percent effective based on early test results.
Barlow noted the news of a potential vaccine provides some hope for a return to normalcy in the coming year, but added citizens must “stay diligent in our battle back against the virus."
"I do not want to be designated a hot spot zone and have to start shutting the economy back down," Barlow said. "We’re in a good position and have to keep up our efforts. I urge everyone to be careful during the holiday season, keep the larger picture in mind and everybody do their part to keep distance, wear masks and wash hands frequently."
Huang struck a similarly optimistic yet cautious tone on the vaccine news, noting it would be a positive development but prevention would continue to be important.