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Steuben and Chemung Co. Declared COVID-19 Cluster Zones

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — Chemung and Steuben counties are among the communities along the Pennsylvania border seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

On Wednesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo deemed part of Chemung County a state-designated orange zone and part of Steuben County a yellow zone.

Both areas will face restrictions that reduce the size of gatherings, as well as limit some schools and businesses.

In Chemung County, the affected area spans State Route 14, from Elmira to Horseheads. Towns within the zone include Elmira, Elmira Heights and Horseheads.

Orange zone restrictions for the area include reducing the capacity for houses of worship to 33 percent, or 25 people maximum; reducing the size of gatherings to 10 people, indoor and outdoor; closing high-risk non-essential businesses like gyms and personal care facilities; limiting restaurants to outdoor dining only, with four people per table at most; and moving all schools in the zone to remote learning.

State officials said Wednesday that the restrictions for businesses and houses of worship will take effect on Thursday, and on Monday for affected schools.

Chemung County spokesperson Vinnie Azzarelli said Chemung County Executive Chris Moss will ramp up local enforcement to ensure businesses and residents comply with the new rules.

"He’s asked the sheriff to assign more people to that and called the local police, code officers and other people to help with that," Azzarelli said.

A yellow buffer zone around the orange zone accounts for a fifth of the county, according to Azzarelli. Schools in that zone will begin mandatory COVID-19 testing.

Much of Steuben County’s southeastern corner is affected by the state restrictions. The yellow zone encompasses the city of Corning, towns of Corning, Erwin, Addison, Campbell and several villages, as well as part of a Big Flats in Chemung County.

Steuben County has averaged a four-percent daily positivity rate on a seven-day rolling average for the last three weeks.

Many recent cases in the county stem from a cluster at Corning Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, but according to county officials, congregate care counts don’t factor into the state’s decision to declare a yellow zone.

County Public Health Director Darlene Smith said a sizeable share of cases come from large gatherings.

Schools with in-person classes must now begin surveillance testing for the virus next week. Smith said that will require more staff from the state to administer the tests and keep track of data.

“We just simply don’t have the capacity to meet that requirement,” Smith said.

County Manager Jack Wheeler said testing the required 20 percent of students and staff across all the schools affected means testing more than a thousand people each week.

Those tests will be done by rapid testing machines. Smith said the county already has ten of them and will request more from the state for the school testing.

Smith and Wheeler both warned residents to keep their social circles tight, stating that reducing the size of gatherings is critical to getting out of the yellow zone.

According to Cuomo, yellow zones in rural areas of the state must see a daily positivity rate below four percent before they can lift restrictions.