HelpContact UsFOILSite Map

Custom Navigation

Living in Tompkins County linkLearning in Tompkins County linkVisiting Tompkins County linkBusiness in Tompkins County linkTompkins County Government link

You are here:

You are here



2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

 Graphic image of the coronavirus with FAQ text
THE HEALTH AND WELL-BEING of our community is our top priority. Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD) is working closely with community partners to prevent and respond to the evolving novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.


How it spreads
Protect yourself and your community
Coronavirus Variants
Confirmed Cases and Close Contacts
Isolation and Quarantine
Vaccine Information
What is Tompkins County doing?
Resources & Reference Links

[Top of Page]

Coronavirus image from the CDC

What is a novel coronavirus?

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. COVID-19 is the infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus, which is know as SARS-CoV-2.

[Top of Page]

How It Spreads

How does the virus spread?

COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person through respiratory aerosols that go into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes, speaks, sings, or otherwise exhales with force. Aerosols are particles smaller than 5 micrometers. The virus lingers in the air for many hours when ventilation is poor.

Does it spread from contact with infected surfaces or objects?

It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

Will warm weather stop the spread of COVID-19?

There is no evidence that weather and temperature impact the spread of COVID-19. Some other viruses, like the common cold and flu, spread more during cold weather months, but it is still possible to become sick with these viruses during other months.

What is community spread?

Community spread means people have been infected with the virus in an area, including people who are not sure how or when they became infected. COVID-19 seems to be spreading easily and continually in the community (“community spread”).

Who is more at risk?

80% of individuals infected with COVID-19 will have mild symptoms and fully recover. However, older adults and anyone with an underlying chronic medical condition may be at greater risk. This includes older adults, those who are immune-compromised, or have a chronic medical condition, especially heart or lung disease, and diabetes. For more information about additional steps that should be taken by those at higher risk for complications, visit the CDC COVID-19 web page, People with Certain Medical Conditions

Will the virus mutate to form new variants or strains?

Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. Scientists monitor changes in the virus, including changes to the spikes on the surface of the virus. These studies are helping to understand how changes to the virus might affect how it spreads and what happens to people who are infected with it. The Variants section below provides much more information.

[Top of Page]

How can I help protect myself and my community?

Image of a poster--click to downloadThe best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. Use everyday hygiene actions to help stop the spread of respiratory diseases, including:

  • Avoid any contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. If a tissue is not available, cover your cough or sneeze into your elbow.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Avoid handshakes and hugs, use an elbow bump instead
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
    • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
    • For more information about hand-washing., see the CDC Hand-washing website.

Icon for hand hygieneAll About Washing Your Hands

Watch this great 3 minute video from the CDC to get a close look at why and how to wash your hands often.
(May not display in all browsers.)

Washing with Soap & Water
  • Wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap.
  • Scrub all surfaces of your hands, including the palms, backs, fingers, between your fingers, and under your nails. Keep scrubbing for 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
  • Rinse your hands under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
Using an Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer

Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Supervise young children when they use hand sanitizer to prevent swallowing alcohol, especially in schools and childcare facilities.

  • Apply. Put enough product on hands to cover all surfaces.
  • Rub hands together, until hands feel dry. This should take around 20 seconds.

Note: Do not rinse or wipe off the hand sanitizer before it’s dry; it may not work as well against germs.

Get the CDC fact sheet with this info; click here.

[Top of Page]

When in public or with others outside of your household

In an ongoing effort to slow the spread of Coronavirus and COVID-19, residents should be familiar with and follow all guidance from the Tompkins County Health Department and NYS Department of Health. the following measures are important steps to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Wear a face mask

Face masks help to protect those who may be indoors with someone who is infected but doesn't know it. The virus is carried by aerosols that are exhaled during normal breathing. Talking, shouting, and singing project the aerosols a greater distance, and wearing a mask helps to reduce that distance and therefore how far the virus can spread. Face masks work best when everyone wears one. Click here for more about face masks

Good ventilation

Aerosols can linger in the air for hours, so good ventilation is important for indoor spaces. Opening windows will help, as will use of a portable HEPA air filter. A CDC study demonstrates that Portable HEPA air cleaners can reduce exposure to aerosols carrying virus in indoor environments, especially when combined with universal masking. The EPA states that, "when used along with other best practices recommended by CDC and others, filtration can be part of a plan to protect people indoors."

Social distancing

Social distancing can help keep the coronavirus from spreading from one person to another, especially for those at higher risk for severe illness or hospitalization. Stay at least 6-feet away from anyone who is not part of your immediate household. 6-feet is about 2 adult arm lengths. Your household are the people you live with and around everyday. For indoor spaces where people are gathering for an extended period of time (more than 10-15 minutes), good ventilation and universal masking is also important.

Take extra precautions at large public events

Avoid gathering in groups with others who are not members of your household. If you are at a gathering or in a group with people from outside your household, wear a mask, encourage others to wear a mask, and seek out areas that with adequate ventilation.

Icon for social distancing -- stay at least 6 feet apartIcon for masks and face coverings


New York State's Travel Advisory has been lifted, and traveler health forms are no longer required when entering the state. However, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with ongoing guidance from the CDC. This includes the following:

  • Delay travel until you are fully vaccinated. 
  • Know the COVID transmission rate at your destination, and know the local guidance and regulations related to COVID-19.  
  • Wearing a mask over your nose and mouth is required in indoor areas of public transportation (including airplanes) traveling into, within, or out of the United States and indoors in U.S. transportation hubs (including airports). 
  • Do not travel if you have been exposed to COVID-19, you are sick, or if you test positive for COVID-19.
  • If you must travel within the U.S. and are not fully vaccinated, get tested before and after your trip.
  • International travelers, know the country's entry and exit requirements, including vaccination and /or testing mandates. When you travel to the United States by air, you are required to show a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before you board your flight. The timing of this test depends on your vaccination status and age.


[Top of Page]

Delta and Other Coronavirus Variants

What is a virus variant?

Variants are expected as viruses constantly change and become more diverse through mutation. Sometimes, due to their nature or mutation, new variants disappear, and other times, they persist. Many variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been studied and identified since the beginning of the pandemic. Some changes allow the virus to spread more easily, and those variants must be carefully monitored.

What is different about the Delta variant?

Delta is a COVID-19 “Variant of Concern” that originated in India. New data shows that people infected with Delta have higher viral loads—meaning more virus in their body—than with previous variants. Delta spreads about twice as easily from one person to another, compared with earlier strains. In May 2021, less than 1% of U.S. cases were the Delta variant. In July 2021, 80% of cases were of the Delta variant.

Can I spread the Delta variant if I’m vaccinated?

Yes, new data shows that fully vaccinated people who are infected with the Delta are contagious and can potentially spread the virus to others, though maybe for a shorter time period than someone who is unvaccinated. Even so, vaccinated individuals represent a small amount of the transmission occurring around the country. The CDC is continuing to monitor available data.

Virtually all hospitalizations and deaths continue to be among unvaccinated individuals.

Why is the CDC recommending masks even if you’re vaccinated?

Recent data, both in the United States and in other countries, shows that a small proportion of fully vaccinated people may become infected with Delta and transmit it. For this reason, in areas with substantial or high transmission rates, fully vaccinated individuals should wear a mask in public indoor settings to help prevent the spread of Delta and protect others.

In low transmission areas, the overall risk of a vaccinated person getting Delta is lower. Individuals can still consider whether they want to take the extra precaution of wearing a mask, particularly in households with someone who is immunocompromised, unvaccinated, or at risk of severe disease.

Is the Delta variant active in Tompkins County?

Yes. According to data published August 10, Delta is the dominant strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in Tompkins County. This was confirmed by a sequencing program at Cornell University’s Virology Lab, in collaboration with Cayuga Medical Center and the TCHD.

Samples from positive cases taken during the months of June and July 2021 were tested by the Cornell lab. Of the 87 samples that were sequenced, 80 were the Delta variant. Six of the samples were other variants of the virus. All samples of fully vaccinated individuals sequenced in this batch resulted from infection by the Delta variant.

Omicron Variant

On 11/26/21, the CDC released a statement about the new Variant of Concern named Omicron, emphasizing the ongoing importance of familiar prevention measures. The Tompkins County Health Department recommends the following: get vaccinatedwear a mask in indoor public places, maintain social distance and avoid crowded areas when in public, wash hands frequently, monitor your symptoms, and get tested if symptoms develop.


[Top of Page]

Icon graphic for symptomsSymptoms

What are the symptoms and complications that COVID-19 can cause?

Current symptoms reported for patients with COVID-19 have included mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing.

Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death for confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases.

The following symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure, and may be early warning signs:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Trouble breathing
  • Pain or pressure on the chest that doesn't go away
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Experience confusion or trouble waking up
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Bluish lips or face

This list is not all inclusive, so consult your health care provider about other symptoms that are severe or concerning. Read about COVID-19 Symptoms on the NYSDOH website, or on the CDC website.

Severe illness

Under certain conditions, individuals of any age can be more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19.

  • Older adults. More than 80% of COVID-19 deaths occur in people over age 65, and more than 95% of COVID-19 deaths occur in people older than 45.
  • Minorities, people with disabilities, and underserved populations who have less access to regular health care.
  • Medical conditions, including (not listed in order of risk)
    • Cancer
    • Liver or kidney disease or conditions
    • Chronic lung disease
    • Diabetes (Type 1 or 2)
    • Heart conditions or cerebrovascular disease
    • HIV infection
    • Immunocompromised (weakened immune system)
    • Solid organ or blood stem cell transplant
    • Overweight and obesity
    • Pregnancy
    • Smoking (current or former)
    • Substance use disorders
    • Dementia or other neurological conditions
    • Down syndrome
    • Sickle cell disease or thalassemia
    • Children with certain underlying conditions (more CDC info)
    • Complete CDC list with links to more information

[Top of Page]


Who should be tested for COVID-19?

Testing is available at no cost to all Tompkins County residents, regardless of circumstances or reason, at the Cayuga Health Sampling Site, beginning 9/1/20. Appointment required. Click here for details.

Tompkins County residents are encouraged to get tested based on the following guidelines:

  1. Has had a recent onset of symptoms listed above, such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, or body aches
  2. Individual has been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days, by their own observation, or as informed through a contact investigation or potential public exposure
  3. Individual’s employer, school, or other organization has a testing program through a contract with Cayuga Health
  4. Individual is an essential worker
  5. Individual is a Tompkins County resident 
  6. Individual has an upcoming medical or surgical procedure

Additional information about testing is on the NYS Department of Health website.

Where is testing conducted?

Cayuga Health System operates a drive-through testing site located in the back parking lot at The Shops at Ithaca Mall. Click here for complete information about the CHS Sampling Site.

  • There is no cost for Tompkins County residents who get tested for medical or surveillance reasons. 
  • Testing at the Cayuga Health Sampling Sites for non-residents who do not meet the medical criteria is $99.
  • Appointments are required for all testing. Register here. Or call Cayuga Health Registration Line at 607-319-5708. 

Free testing is available at any NYS-run sampling sites. Call the NYS COVID Hotline for other locations and to register: (888) 364-3065

You can also call your primary health care provider if you have symptoms or have been in a room with a person who tested positive. If you do not have a primary care provider, call 2-1-1. Always call before going to the office for medical evaluation.

Additional testing sites are available in the greater Tompkins County area. To find sites, go to the NYS "Find a Test Site" page, and enter your ZIP code. Before you get tested, be sure you know whether or not there is a fee for the service.

The NYS website page about testing is

What if I do not have health insurance?

NYS has a directive requiring New York Insurers to waive the cost of COVID-19 testing.

Testing is free at all NYS-run sampling sites. An appointment is required. To find the closest site and preregister, call the NYS COVID Hotline, (888) 364-3065.

[Top of Page]

Confirmed Cases and Close Contacts

Confirmed case

An individual who has tested positive for the Coronavirus is a "confirmed case." The person may or may not have symptoms, but is presumed to be contagious.

Case Investigation

When a confirmed case is identified, they are interviewed by a Case Investigator and asked where they have been, and to list people who they may have been in close contact with during the time they were infectious, usually 2 days before they had symptoms or were tested.

Contact Tracing

Contact tracing is the process of connecting with all close contacts who were identified by the positive case during the case investigation.

  • During a surge in cases, such as the Omicron surge that began in December 2021, case investigations and contact tracing are known to be less effective epidemiological tools to reduce the spread of disease.
  • New York State has given local health departments the ability to suspend contact tracing. This means if you test positive for COVID-19 or are a close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, you may not get a call from a county or state COVID-19 case investigator.

Who is a Close Contact?

A close contact is someone who is identified by the positive case during the case investigation. Those individuals are then notified that they were exposed to the virus.

  • A close contact is defined by the CDC as someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.
    • Note that someone is considered a close contact based on the total exposures added together. An infected person (positive case) may identify you as a close contact if they were with you a few times over the course of one day, for a few minutes each time, altogether adding up to 15 minutes or more.
    • It does not make any difference whether or not the infected person was wearing a mask.
  • The infectious period starts from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the positive case is isolated.
  • Exception for PreK-12 students in an indoor classroom setting:
    • The close contact definition excludes students who were within 3 to 6 feet of an infected student (positive PCR test) if both the infected student and the exposed student(s) correctly and consistently wore well-fitting masks the entire time.
    • This exception does not apply to teachers, staff, or other adults in the indoor classroom setting.
  • Source and more details on the CDC website.

[Top of Page]

Isolation and Quarantine 

Icon -- Positive Cases Must IsolateWhat is isolation?

Isolation means separating a sick person with a contagious disease like COVID-19 away from others.

Where does isolation take place?

Isolation is done in a specific designated location where you have your own bedroom and ideally your own bathroom. The Health Department will determine whether your home is appropriate for isolation and when needed, arrange for alternate temporary housing.

What is the purpose of isolation?

The purpose of isolation is to eliminate contagious disease exposure to others during the infectious period, which is time period when a person can give the disease to others.

Isolation for those who are positive for COVID-19

As of January 4, 2022, NYS Department of Health and Tompkins County Health Department have adopted new guidance to shorten some isolation periods from 10 days to 5.

  • Regardless of vaccination status, isolate at home away from others for 5 days from symptom onset or test date.
  • If asymptomatic or symptoms are improving, at the end of 5 days isolation ends. You should wear a well-fitting mask around others for an additional 5 days.
  • People who are immunocompromised should continue to follow the full 10 days of isolation.
  • People who are unable to wear a mask for 5 days after isolation should follow the full 10 days of isolation.
  • Notify close contacts that they may have been exposed, should monitor themselves for symptoms, and follow the quarantine guidance below.
  • Continue to monitor your own symptoms.
  • If you need documentation for work or school, download the NYS Isolation Self-Affirmation Form. It will contain your Isolation start and end date.
  • If you used a self-test, follow guidance posted here.
If you are currently in isolation:
  • If you are currently in isolation and being monitored by TCHD, you will be contacted by TCHD either through a phone call or SMS (text) message to assess your symptoms and determine if you meet the criteria for a shortened release from isolation. Please be patient as the Health Department team works through this process.
What steps must I follow while in isolation?
  • Stay home separated from others in your own bedroom.
  • Use a bathroom that only you use. If this is not possible, disinfect all bathroom touch surfaces after your use each time or use a commode in your bedroom.
  • Have all meals and other needs—medicines, personal items—brought to your bedroom door.
  • You cannot go to work, school, public places, or social gatherings during your isolation period.
  • Visitors and non-household members are not allowed in your home, not even in rooms not near the isolation room.
  • If you develop new symptoms or need medical care, call your primary care provider first. Do not go to the ER or Urgent Care without speaking to your primary care provider. In case of emergency, call 911 and state that you are under isolation for COVID-19.
  • For more information, follow NYS guidance here.

[Top of Page]

What is Quarantine?

Quarantine means separating a healthy person or group of healthy people away from others due to exposure to a contagious disease like COVID-19.

Where does quarantine take place?

Quarantine happens in a specific designated location like your home or a hotel room where you can maintain separation from others.

What is the purpose of quarantine?

The purpose of quarantine is to monitor an individual for the development of symptoms of contagious disease during its incubation period. Incubation goes from date of exposure to the onset of symptoms.

How long is quarantine?

As of January 4, 2022, NYS Department of Health and Tompkins County Health Department have adopted new guidance to shorten some quarantine periods from 10 days to 5.

  • If unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or fully vaccinated but not yet boosted, quarantine at home for 5 days from last exposure and wear a well-fitting mask for 5 additional days.
  • If fully vaccinated and boosted or not yet eligible for a booster, no quarantine is required, but people should still wear a mask around others for 10 days after the last day of exposure.
  • If you have access to testing, test at day 5. Testing is free of charge for Tompkins County residents at the Mall Site and at neighboring NYS Test sites, or you may use a self-test.
  • If you develop symptoms, quarantine and seek testing. If testing is not done, isolate according to the isolation guidance above.
  • Exception for school teachers, staff and students: Fully vaccinated individuals (teachers, students, and staff) ages 12 and older who were exposed may attend school if they have completed the primary series but have not yet received a booster.
  • If you need documentation for work or school, download the NYS Quarantine Self-Affirmation Form. It will contain your quarantine start and end date.
  • For more information, follow NYS guidance here.
What steps must be followed during quarantine?

The requirements to safely quarantine include:

  • Quarantined individuals must not be in public or otherwise leave the living quarters that have been identified as suitable for their quarantine.  
  • There must be a separate living area with a separate bathroom facility for each individual or family group. Access to a sink with soap, water, and paper towels is necessary. Cleaning supplies (e.g. household cleaning wipes, bleach) must be provided in any shared bathroom.
  • There must be a way to self-quarantine from household members in case fever or other symptoms develop. This should be in a separate room(s) with a separate door.
  • The person in quarantine must sleep in a separate bedroom from other household members.
  • If the individual develops symptoms, food must be delivered to the person’s room(s). Any person in quarantine must use kitchen facilities only when other household members are not in the room. Thorough cleaning/ disinfecting must be done by the quarantined person when they have finished in the area.  
  • A supply of face masks must be easily accessible for individuals to use if they become symptomatic.
  • A system for monitoring temperature and symptoms must be in place so that quarantined individuals can be assessed in their separate living areas.
  • The primary health care provider or Health Department must be notified if the individual begins to experience more than mild symptoms and may require medical assistance.
  • The living area must be secure against unauthorized access.
Plan ahead when possible

Individuals who anticipate a mandatory or self-quarantine should consider the status of their quarantine site and of essential items:

  • Food and personal items (Grocery delivery service listings click here)
  • Cleaning and hygiene products
  • Cell phone and /or Internet access
  • A local person who can be contacted in case of urgent or emergency needs

Cleaning and disinfecting

Thorough cleaning of frequently touched surfaces is an important component of isolation and quarantine. Examples include tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks. Use household cleaners and EPA-registered disinfectants that are appropriate for the surface, following label instructions.

Questions & Needs
  • For health related questions, or if there is a concern that you cannot adhere to the full quarantine, contact your health care provider.
  • If you have questions or concerns related to meeting your personal needs, or obtaining food or other supplies while you are in quarantine, Call the Tompkins County 2-1-1 Help Line.
    • Dial 2-1-1 anytime, 24/7, to speak with call center staff. Or call 877-211-8667.
    • Text messaging: text your zip code to TXT211 or 898211. (Available Mon-Fri 9:00am–4:00pm.)
    • Live Chat: Click here from a computer. (Available Mon-Fri, 8:30am–5:00pm.)
    • 2-1-1 Tompkins/ Cortland website.
    • Food resources for families, households, individuals
  • NYSDOH Hotline and question form for general COVID-19 inquires: 1-888-364-3065 or Ask a Question.

[Top of Page]

PreK-12 Guidance

Source: NYSDOH Frequently Asked Questions for Schools.

Are schools required to do contact tracing when students or staff test positive for, develop symptoms of, or are exposed to COVID-19?

No. Schools may work with their local health department to ensure that members of the school community, including students, staff, and teachers, who test positive for, develop symptoms of or are exposed to COVID-19 have access to the information they need to take appropriate steps to protect themselves and others.

  • This may include isolating or quarantining, notifying close contacts, staying home when ill, monitoring symptoms, and wearing a well-fitting mask. Isolation and quarantine attestation forms, and related information are available at state and local health department websites.
  • When known close contact with someone who tested positive for or has symptoms of COVID-19 occurs on the school campus, for example, in a classroom, schools should at least notify parents and guardians of affected students.
  • Exposed individuals should be referred to information provided by the state or local health department and should follow the quarantine guidance as noted below.
Do students and staff need to isolate if they have COVID-19 or COVID-19 symptoms?

Yes. Isolation is used to separate people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 from those without COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status.

  • Everyone who has presumed or confirmed COVID-19 should stay home and isolate from other people for at least 5 full days (day 0 is the first day of symptoms or the date of the positive viral test was taken for asymptomatic persons).
  • If symptoms persist further isolation will be required; otherwise, they may attend school or work after the 5-day isolation.
  • They should wear a mask when around others at home, at work, and in public for an additional 5 days in accordance with Department guidelines [LINK].
Do students and staff need to quarantine if they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19?
  • In-classroom activities: All fully vaccinated* individuals (students, teachers, and staff), who have been exposed to an individual with COVID-19, and who are asymptomatic, may continue to attend or work at school, including public transportation, regardless of booster status, while quarantined outside of school (see below). This recommendation continues previous guidance in place prior to January 4, 2022. Continued attendance applies only to participation in classroom activities and using public transportation to and from school.
    • Fully vaccinated is defined as two weeks after the receipt of either two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or full course of any other recognized vaccine.
  • Extracurricular or after school activities: Individuals 12 years and older who are eligible for a booster but not boosted, and who have been exposed to an individual with COVID-19, cannot participate in extracurricular or after school activities and, aside from school attendance for instruction and travel to and from school, must adhere to a 5-day quarantine at home. Fully vaccinated 5-11-year-old children are not eligible for a booster and are not restricted from extracurricular or after school activities.
  • Students, teachers, and staff who are not vaccinated or have not completed a primary vaccine series who came into close contact with someone with COVID-19 should quarantine for at least 5 days (day 0 through day 5) after their last close contact. These individuals may be eligible for Test to Stay [LINK to NYS TTS Guidance] programs that would allow them to stay in the school setting during the quarantine period. Outside the school setting, quarantine recommendations would apply.
How does a school know if an employee needs to isolate or quarantine due to testing positive for, having symptoms of, or being exposed to COVID-19?
  • Employees should report this information to their employer pursuant to their employer’s health information, COVID-19, or sick leave protocol.
  • Employees may attest to their isolation or quarantine status by completing an Isolation or Quarantine form available on the New York State Department of Health website [add LINK] or Local Health Department website.
If a school employee develops COVID-19, will the Local Health Department do an investigation and order exposed employees into quarantine?
  • Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 or have COVID-19 symptoms should isolate and notify their close contacts that they may have been exposed to COVID-19.
  • Individuals who test positive for COVID- 19 or have COVID-19 symptoms should refer close contacts to the state or local health department website to learn about the steps they should take because of the exposure.

The Local Health Department may or may not do a case investigation. Isolation and quarantine
attestation forms and related information are available at state and local health department websites

Are masks required in schools?

Yes, masks are required in schools at all times, except when actively eating, drinking, or participating in music instruction as part of a regular academic curriculum where masking is impractical and social distancing has been implemented. When students are outside and able to maintain six feet of distance, masks are not required.

  • Universal masking of teachers, staff, students, and visitors to PK-12 schools over age two and able to medically tolerate a face covering/mask and regardless of vaccination status, is required indoors.
  • Further, the requirement is extended to any gathering on school grounds which addresses or implements educational matters where students are or may reasonably be expected to be present.
  • “Mask breaks” during the school day are not permitted and there is no exception to the masking requirement on the basis of minimal social distancing in classrooms. This is in accordance with CDC guidance recommending universal masking in schools to keep children in school without risking close contact exposure and subsequent quarantines.


[Top of Page]

COVID-19 Vaccine Information and Distribution

Vaccine icon -- Vaccines Protect Us

TCHD is preparing to manage vaccine distribution. TCHD has been planning and practicing the distribution of Medical Countermeasures (MCMs) during public health emergencies for many years. Click here for our vaccine information page.

[Top of Page]

What is Tompkins County doing?

What is the Health Department doing?

This is an emerging, rapidly evolving situation and TCHD will continue to implement guidance from the CDC and NYS DOH. TCHD is working closely with Tompkins County Administration, elected officials, and community partners, including school districts, Cornell University, Ithaca College, TC3, Cayuga Medical Center and other healthcare providers. The health and well-being of our community is our top priority. Refer to our website for updated information.

TCHD continues to be notified of travelers from affected areas returning to Tompkins County. Community health nurses are contacting, evaluating travel itineraries, and determining if quarantine is necessary for travelers. Nurses are assessing the living situation to ensure that it is appropriate or arranging for an alternative quarantine location. Anyone who is quarantined is monitored daily for the 14-day period.

Current status: TCHD will update numbers every afternoon on the Health Department website regarding those in quarantine, test results pending, and confirmed cases. The table is at the top of the TCHD homepage.

What does the State of Emergency mean in Tompkins County?
  • Allows officials to obtain and purchase goods and services quickly.
  • Assistance can be provided to municipalities and school districts.
  • County operations will continue unchanged unless otherwise advised.
  • This declaration does not impact travel in Tompkins County.
  • This declaration allows the County to use funding with less restriction.

What is an EOC (Emergency Operations Center)?
  • A central facility where a team of public health and County officials come together to do the following:
    • Monitor information
    • Prepare for response
    • Exchange information and communicate readily to coordinate the response
    • Make decisions quickly
    • Ensure continuity of operations
  • The physical EOC includes:
    • One central location
    • Necessary technology to assess and respond to a public health or other emergency

COVID-19 EOC Response Timeline

The County EOC communications team created a timeline, which was first presented to the county legislature at their meeting on April 7, 2020. Updated versions are presented at each meeting of the Legislature. View and download below.

Slides for the December 7, 2021 Legislative meeting are shown in the frame above.
  — If your browser does not support frames, click to open the PDF.
  — Complete timeline available here, 2020 click here || 2021 YTD click here.
  — Updated data and demographic graphs also available on the data page.

Highlights of Legislature meetings, 2020 click here || 2021 click here.

[Top of Page]

Virtual Updates 

Recordings of live streamed Q&A “Town Hall” sessions with County officials

[Top of Page]


NYS COVID-19 Updates and References

Local Resources

[Top of Page]