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

> COVID19 Social Distancing to Stop the Spread

2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Social Distancing

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 to file a complaint related to reopening guidelines

If you are concerned about individual or group behaviors related to COVID-19 prevention guidance, or about a business who you believe is not in compliance with phased reopening guidelines, you may file a complaint. Issues may include use of face coverings, gatherings over the allowable limit, failure to practice proper distancing.

Image of the NYSDOH complaint form web pageNYS Reporting System
  • Use the NYS Task Force Violation Complaint Form for filing a complaint (may be filed anonymously). Information will be forwarded to the Environmental Health Division of the TCHD. You may also call the NYS COVID Hotline, 1-833-789-0470.
  • Travel Advisory: To report an individual failing to adhere to the quarantine requirement for those coming to NYS from a restricted state, please call the NYS Hotline 1-833-789-0470, or go to the NYS Complaint Form
  • Worker Complaints about Working Conditions: NYS Dept of Labor COVID Complaint Hotline 1-888-364-3065, or file using the form at NYS Complaint Form
LOCAL CONTACTS for public complaints

PLEASE NOTE: Calls to 9-1-1 should be for emergencies only.

Community Social Distancing

Illustration of question marks with the words Frequently Asked QuestionsIt is important to continue social distancing as we reopen. This is a community effort and everyone plays a part. Encourage friends and family to follow these guidelines:

  • Proper distancing is still one of the most important ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Continue to see your household as a unit: if one person is exposed, everyone in your household is at risk.
  • Social Distancing does not mean emotional distancing or isolation. Check on friends, coworkers, neighbors through phone and text.

When in public

  • Keep 6 feet distance between yourself and others (that's about 2 arm lengths).
  • Wear a cloth face covering when you are not able to keep 6 feet of distance. When you are in indoor public spaces (e.g., retail stores) you should wear a facecovering at all times. Always follow proprietor’s requirements when in an office or other workplace.
  • Use hand sanitizer when you enter a store or other business, and when you exit. Wash or sanitize your hands immediately after you remove your face covering


When gatherings, groups, or crowds form, especially in a limited or confined space, it is important to position yourself so you can continue to maintain six feet of distance from others on all sides. If others continue to come into an area with limited space so you are unable to maintain 6-feet of distance, it is best to move to an exit or remove yourself entirely from the area. Keep an eye on things so you don't get trapped. 

  • Gatherings at private residences are limited to no more than 10 individuals, either indoors or outdoors, (effective 11/13/20, EO 202.74.)
  • Non-essential public gatherings limited to 50 or fewer individuals.
  • Religious services allowed up to 33% of posted occupancy indoors with correct distancing and face coverings, and maximum 50 people outdoors. Max allowable changes for Micro-Cluster zones. See Cluster Initiative guidance here.
  • Sports and Recreation, please follow state guidelines, available here.
  • After being outside or participating in group activities, wash your hands well with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Wash your face cloth covering, or throw away single use masks.
  • A violation of any provision of Section 66-3.3-Non-essential gatherings is subject to all civil and criminal penalties as provided for by law.

Higher risk individuals

  • Higher risk means a greater chance of a more severe case of COVID-19 if the individual gets sick, and a better chance of having complications from the disease
  • Higher risk individuals include older adults (age 60+), those who are immune-compromised, or have a chronic medical condition, especially heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes
  • Higher risk individuals should avoid any in-person contact with others.

Anyone who may have been exposed to the coronavirus, and who are at risk for coming down with COVID-19 should get tested and begin self-quarantine for 14 days.

NYSDOH web resource.

[Top of Page]

Use of face masks or cloth covering

Face mask icon -- Use a Face CoveringNYS Governor Cuomo has signed executive orders that requires wearing a cloth face mask or covering when you go out in public, or if you are a worker who has contact with customers or members of the public. The requirement for employees went into effect April 15. The requirement for the general public went into effect April 17, 2020.

Why Use a Face Mask
  • A simple cloth face mask or covering slows the spread of the virus by people who are contagious and do not know it.
  • The virus spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice. Loud talking, shouting, and singing can increase the distance the virus spreads beyond 6 feet. This can be limited by wearing a cloth face covering. (CDC)
  • Cloth face coverings are most likely to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when they are widely used by people in public settings.
  • Use of face coverings is mandatory in NYS by Executive Order.

Remember: My mask protects you, your mask protects me. (Click here to find out how.)

What is Acceptable as a Face Mask
  • A face covering should fit over your nose, mouth, and chin.
  • Acceptable face-coverings include cloth masks, surgical masks, and N-95 respirators.
  • Face shields are no longer an acceptable face-covering. Note that face shields may be used in addition to another face covering.
  • Face coverings with one-way valves that facilitate breathing out are not acceptable.
How to Wear a Cloth Face Mask

Cloth face coverings should —

  • fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • be secured with ties or ear loops
  • include multiple layers of fabric
  • allow for breathing without restriction
  • be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape

Putting on and taking off a face covering (donning and doffing) —

  • Remove a face mask carefully so you do not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Wash or sanitize hands immediately after removing your face mask.

  • Watch a short video (just 90 seconds) about how to put on and take off a face covering. 
    If you don't see the video in the box, click here to watch it on YouTube
  • Watch a longer video (just over 5 minutes) about how to properly store a mask so you can use it again.
    If you don't see the video in the box, click here to watch it on YouTube.
  • Watch a 30-second video promoting use of face coverings
    Masks are Gorges, sponsored by the City of Ithaca, Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce, the Health Department, and others
    If you don't see the video in the box, click here to watch it on YouTube.
  • Image of a flyer about how to wear a face covering. NYSDOH
  • How my mask protects you, and your mask protects me. Click here to open a letter-size PDF in a new tab. Or click the image for a larger image.
    Image of a Poster showing how wearing a mask reduces COVID spread

How to make your own cloth face covering
CDC References and resources

[Top of Page]

Use of face coverings by anyone out in public places

Executive Order 202.18, issued on April 16, 2020, states that individuals must have and wear some kind of face covering when they are in a public place. See also COVID-19 Emergency Regulations SubPart 66-3Section 66-3.2

An individual is required to wear a face covering if

  • over the age of two
  • within six feet of distance from other individuals
  • in a situation or setting where they are, or may be, unable to maintain a social distance of six feet or more from other individuals (except household members)
  • using public transportation or in a private for-hire vehicle.


  • the individual is younger than age two (2) years.
  • a face covering would inhibit or otherwise impair an individual’s health and they could not medically tolerate wearing one
    • Note that anyone who is not wearing a face covering due to a health or medical condition does not have to show documentation for why they can't wear one.
  • NOTE: Business operators and building owners, their agents and authorized users shall deny admittance to any person who fails to comply, and shall require or compel such persons’ removal. (Actions must be consistent with the federal American with Disabilities Act, New York State or New York City Human Rights Law, and any other applicable provision of law. See Section 66-3.2 (d).

Use of face coverings by employees
  • Employees must wear face coverings when in direct contact with customers or the public
  • Business must provide face coverings at their expense, per Executive Order 202.16 and COVID-19 Emergency Regulations Section 66-3.2 (c) and (d).
    • The County's face mask distribution program has ended.
    • Cloth face covers are available at many local retailers. For locally made masks, you may contact Tompkins Mask Makers.  
    • Letter to business partners from Public Health Dir. Frank Kruppa regarding EO 202.16 (4/14/20).

Penalties for Violation

A violation of any provision of COVID-19 Emergency Regulations SubPart 66-3 is subject to all civil and criminal penalties as provided for by law (see Section 66-3.5 - Penalties). Individuals who violate any Section of these Regulations are subject to a maximum fine of $1,000 for each violation. Enforcement agencies include NY State Police, NY State Liquor Authority, Tompkins County Environmental Health. Info about how to file a complaint.


[Top of Page]

Stay Safe This Holiday Season

Stay home for the holidays iconThe holidays will be different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fall and winter holidays are usually a time for gathering with family and friends. This year, make safety the top priority.

Celebrate at home
  • The Tompkins County Health Department is strongly discouraging all travel and non-essential gatherings to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Celebrate with your household
  • The Health Department urges single household gatherings only — the people you have been in close contact with during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Your household includes the people you are and have been living with in your house or apartment. College students returning home are from a different household, and proper precautions should be taken for a minimum of 14 days. Follow Travel Advisory guidance for anyone entering New York State from outside our contiguous states.
  • All gatherings are limited to no more than 10 people at private residences both indoors and outdoors by Executive Order of the Governor (EO 202.74).
Why this is important
  • Image of Flyer for Stay Safe for the HolidaysPrivate social gatherings, where households mix or individuals move from one gathering to another, are now one of the primary ways that COVID-19 is spreading. Locally, these activities contributed directly to the largest one-day increase in cases since the start of the pandemic.
  • During the gathering there will be long stretches of time when guests are unmasked to eat or drink. Speaking without a mask, especially when louder than normal conversation, increases the amount of small, aerosol-size particles that go into the air. These particles can carry the virus, and be inhaled into the nose, mouth, airways, and lungs and cause infection. This is thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
Consider alternatives this year
  • Have a small dinner with only people who live in your household.
  • Prepare meals for family and neighbors, especially those at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, and deliver them contact-free.
  • Have a virtual dinner and share recipes with friends and family.
  • Shop online (including local small businesses) rather than in person on the day after Thanksgiving or other holiday shopping days.
  • Watch sports events, parades, and movies from home.
Links to more tips and ideas

[Top of Page]

Tips for Shopping

The holidays are a traditional time for shopping — for gifts, for home decorations, and for special meals. For some in our community, this may be the first time in months that they are in a store for more than just their weekly groceries. That means all of us need to be especially vigilant with how we conduct ourselves when in indoor public spaces.

In general, the more closely you interact with others and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread. Continue to protect yourself by practicing everyday preventive actions. Keep these items on hand when venturing out: a face mask, tissues, and a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

Before you go
  • Do not go shopping if you feel sick, are experiencing systems of COVID-19 such as fever or cough, or may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.
  • Make a list of what you need and stick to the list. This will help you keep from lingering in one place while you think about what you need, and shorten the overall time you spend in the store.
  • Don’t forget your mask, a required item when in public spaces.
  • Hand sanitizer may be available in the stores you visit, but bring your own just in case.
  • Consider alternatives to in-person shopping; shop online when able to or order for curbside pick-up if available.
  • If you are at higher risk for severe illness, find out if the store has special hours for people at higher risk. If they do, try to shop during those hours.
While you are shopping
  • Use the disposable sanitizer towels provided in many stores to wipe down cart handles, child seats, and basket handles; hand sanitizing stations may also be available.
  • Limit number of items touched to things you plan on purchasing. Some stores will have baskets for you to put touched items into for sanitizing if you change your mind about purchasing.
  • Limit your contact with frequently used surfaces in the checkout area, such as candy racks, counter areas, and credit card readers.
  • Make sure the store staff sanitize the checkout area between every customer, including conveyor belts and card reader areas. At self-checkout areas, make sure all surfaces are sanitized between every customer.
  • Some stores require customers to keep and fill reusable bags in their carts and not on store counters. Others may have temporarily banned the use of reusable shopping bags during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Do not consume any food or drink while in a store. Your face mask should keep your mouth and nose covered at all times.
  • Maintain distance of 6 feet between you and other shoppers. Many stores will have markings for one-way shopping or distance markers. Please follow store guidance accordingly.
When you get home
  • Wash your hands well: use soap and water to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds upon arriving at your home.
  • Unpack safely at home. Currently, the risk of infection from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, from food products, food packaging, or bags is thought to be low. However, it is always important to follow good food safety practices.
  • Wipe down cans, jars, bottles, and boxes.
  • Do NOT use disinfectants designed for hard surfaces, such as bleach or ammonia, on food packaged in cardboard or plastic wrap.
  • Wash produce before you put it away.
  • Wipe down countertops, refrigerator and door handles, and other surfaces in the area you unloaded and put away your groceries.
  • Clean your phone if you used it while you were out.


[Top of Page]

Guidance for Outdoor Sports and Recreation Activities

  • All health and safety icons together--Distance, Density, Face cover, Hand hygiene, Symptoms, Mental healthUniversal Requirements: In all cases related to outdoor activities, the standard protocols for health and safety should always be followed:
    • Distance: Maintain physical distance of 6 feet at all times, including outdoors.
    • Density: Avoid entering crowded areas, or areas that may become crowded. Follow any one-way modifications to trails or paths.
    • Face covering: Wear a face covering outdoors whenever the 6-foot distance cannot be maintained. Carry a face covering with you, and put it on when you come within 6 feet of another individual.
    • Hand Hygiene: Wash hands well with soap when you return from outdoor activities. Carry sanitizer with you and use it after touching frequently touched surfaces. While State guidance for venue operators includes frequent cleaning/ disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces, individuals should also be responsible for the safety of themselves and their household members.
    • Symptoms: Stay home if you feel ill, or if you have recently been with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Public Gatherings: Gatherings of up to 25 people are allowed in Phase 3 regions.
  • Day Camps: Summer day camps statewide can open on June 29. (Documents)
  • Boys foot kicking a soccer ballYouth Sports: Lower and moderate risk youth sports and activities are open in Phase 3 regions. Maximum of two spectators are allowed per child. Protocols for distance, density, face coverings, and hygiene must be followed. Travel sports competitions and tournaments are not allowed. (Documents)
  • State Parks: State Parks are open and entrance fees have been waived. There are certain parking and trail restrictions. See NYS Parks COVID-19 page for more details.
  • Golf at State Parks: Golf courses operated by State Parks may be open. Operating schedules will differ across the state. Call the course directly for current information.
  • Camping & Pavilion/Shelters: Campgrounds and RV parks opened statewide May 25. Visit the NYS Parks camping page for details.
  • Marinas, boatyards: Allowed to open for personal use as long as strict social distancing and sanitization protocols are followed.
  • Lake Beaches: (Documents)
  • Horse Race Tracks and Watkins Glen: Horse racing tracks across the state and Watkins Glen International Racetrack are open without fans as of June 1. (Documents)

Sources: NY Forward Statewide Guidelines (6/18/20), NY Forward Reopening (6/18/20), ESD Guidance (6/17/20),

Recommended signage for outdoor recreation areas


[Top of Page]

Additional Prevention Measures

Image of the PDF poster you can download

Infection Prevention Measures On the Jobsite
  • Standard workplace guidance applies, such as stay home if sick, wash hands often, cover coughs and sneezes, practice social distancing.
  • Additional measures include reduce crew size to the extent possible while maintaining safety, minimize ride sharing, avoid sharing tools, clean and disinfect frequently all frequently touched surfaces, minimize dust and airborne contaminants, use proper PPE.
  • Click here to download a posting sign with this information (letter-size PDF, 148KB).


Delivery of goods and services to a home


  • If possible, switch all transactions to online payment options.
  • Avoid situations that increase direct contact. Leave items at door.
  • If items cannot be left unattended, notify resident of arrival, leave delivery at door and step back to ensure separation distance.


  • Avoid entering home if possible.
  • If an emergency situation requires entering a home, ask whether any resident is showing signs of illness and determine whether the service can be provided with available personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • In situations where a resident is under quarantine or isolation, contact the local health department for guidance before entering the home.

[Top of Page]