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College Back-To-School Testing Suggests More Breakthrough Cases In Tompkins County

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ITHACA, NY (WSKG) - Many colleges and universities in the region required their students to receive a COVID-19 vaccine or face weekly testing this semester. With those students back on campus, some of the counties that are home to those colleges are seeing an uptick in cases despite high vaccination rates.

Tompkins County is one of them. It is home to both Cornell University* and Ithaca College, and during the school year, the population of its largest city, Ithaca, more than doubles. With all those new people, there are also more positive COVID tests.


"What you're seeing now is we are beginning to reengage our community," said Frank Kruppa, Tompkins County Public Health Director. "Including having higher ed come back, and we're doing that in a methodical and well thought out way. That - which includes testing of students, large numbers of testing of students, and that is going to find cases."

Kruppa said many of those positive tests represent breakthrough cases. 99 percent of Ithaca College students and 96 percent of Cornell students are vaccinated, according to officials at both schools.

"When you have such a highly vaccinated population, we do know the breakthrough cases are possible," Kruppa said.

While breakthrough cases in younger, healthier people do not often require hospitalization, they are a bigger risk for those who are older and immunocompromised, particularly as the delta variant continues to circulate.

This week, Kruppa’s office reported the county’s first two deaths due to breakthrough cases of COVID-19. Both were older adults and died after being hospitalized. One was confirmed to have pre-existing health conditions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), unvaccinated people are more 11 times more likely to die of COVID-19 compared to vaccinated individuals.

The Tompkins County Health Department is strongly encouraging people to continue wearing masks and to get the vaccine if they have not already. 

*Full Disclosure: Cornell University is a WSKG Underwriter.