TIOGA COUNTY — Tioga County has had 25 new COVID-19 cases in the past 14 days, as of Wednesday morning. This is the biggest uptick in cases the county has seen in the total duration of the pandemic.
The increase comes after three major events occurred in succession here, James Nobles, chair of the Tioga County COVID-19 Task Force, said: the opening of Mansfield University, the opening of local school districts and Labor Day.
Nobles said he was expecting an increase of cases after Labor Day, as there were slight case increases after Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, but was surprised at the high number.
Since Sept. 11, the county has added 28 cases. The county total is at 78 cases; 59 are confirmed and 19 are probable. Probable cases are people who had a high-risk exposure and symptoms of the coronavirus, and are classified as a probable case without being tested, according to Maggi Mumma, deputy press secretary of the Department of Health press office.
“We’ve never had that many active cases at one time. That accounts for about a 40% increase in the past 14 days,” Nobles said.
The positive cases from Mansfield University are not included in the county’s total, unless the person is a resident of Tioga County. The university does not currently have any active cases, as of Wednesday morning. University cases can be found at https://www.mansfield.edu/covid.
A common thing Nobles and the task force hears is that the cases are only going up because there is more testing.
“That is true if your corresponding positivity rate doesn’t also go up. But we’ve also seen a .34% increase in our positivity rate. So that’s statistically significant because even though we’re testing more people, you would want to see that positivity rate stay consistent, or even go down,” Nobles said.
Anecdotally speaking, Nobles said Tioga County doesn’t seem to be doing a great job at masking compliance, which is a problem.
“I think there’s many residents that aren’t necessarily convinced that masking can really prevent the spread of the disease, so they’re choosing not to wear a mask, citing other political affiliations and political reasons,” he said.
Politics aside, the science shows that wearing a face mask does help. For face masks to be effective, a high degree of compliance is needed within the county. That, coupled with social distancing, will give people almost 100% protection, Nobles said. Following disinfection protocols — cleaning surfaces and hand washing — is important, too.
“I’m not trying to oversimplify it, but really if we did those three things, I’m very confident we would quell this recent uptick in numbers and get us back to our previous state where we were only adding one or two positive cases in the previous 14 days, not 20,” Nobles said.
The county is still listed as having a low transmission rate, which is a positive thing. If a county is listed as having a moderate transmission rate, the state recommends the school districts go into a blended learning model or full remote.
Moving into flu season, Nobles said it will be important to monitor everything closely, as the symptoms of the flu, the common cold and COVID-19 are all very similar. People with upper respiratory symptoms will be looked at — not reported — as a potential COVID-19 case until a test proves otherwise.
The task force encourages everyone to get a flu shot.