Madison County Sees Infection Rates Rise in Health Analytics Dashboard Update

Colgate’s Health Analytics Dashboard shows a high alert and an upwards trend in Madison County’s COVID-19 infection rates since the end of November along with a moderate, increasing alert for Community Memorial Hospital’s capacity, which Health Analytics Manager Severin Flanigen attributes largely to the Thanksgiving Holiday. Of the 407 active cases in Madison County, 17 are in the Town of Hamilton, according to the county website. In response, Colgate recently increased its safety protocols on campus, backtracking from Gate 4 to Gate 2 with five active cases on campus currently, all being staff. The University’s surveillance testing protocol of five percent of the on-campus population remains in place for the roughly 250 students and the staff who remain on campus after the majority of the student body left campus at the end of in-person instruction.

Permanent residents of Madison County and students living off-campus express mixed feelings about the increasing infection rate. Associate Professor of Religion Jenna Reinbold, a Hamilton resident and parent of two children attending Hamilton Central School, believes that both parents and the larger community are nervous.

“Speaking for myself, I have worried a lot about the possibility of a post-Thanksgiving spike in cases in the public school. So far, that doesn’t seem to have happened, but we’re still in the two-week post-Thanksgiving window,” Reinbold said.

Senior Nikhil Rajavasireddy, currently living off-campus in Hamilton echoed a similar sentiment. 

“I am pretty concerned about the rising cases in Madison County,” Rajavasireddy said. “One of the reasons I stayed was that I felt a sense of safety in terms of Covid throughout Madison County and Hamilton specifically because we are so isolated and had very few cases in the area.”

Hover, some anticipate that this rise is a far cry from what’s to come and much less severe than in more urban areas, including senior Nikki Sotak, who said she expected numbers to get worse during December and January.

“I feel safest here. I’m more concerned about being home in a week where the numbers are also increasing and it’s not as rural as Hamilton,” Sotak said.  

Senior Benjamin Morss expressed a similar sentiment, saying that while on campus, he doesn’t have much exposure to the population outside of Hamilton.

“[I don’t] have that many interactions with the larger Madison County,” Morss said.

In response to the surge in cases, Hamilton Village Mayor RuthAnn Loveless is increasing safety protocol. 

“In every monthly newsletter that I send to residents I talk about the virus and urge continued adherence to the pandemic protocols,” Loveless said. “We are currently developing ways to make our building safer for employees and the public and once that is done we will be able to open up in a safe manner, depending on circumstances, of course.

Community Memorial Hospital, with the help of its environmental services team, has also improved its safety measures to provide clean spaces as COVID-19 worsens. 

“Community Memorial now has processes in place to maximize the safety of all patients receiving services across the health system. Limiting visitor access, phone triage of patients prior to their access to primary care and testing of all surgical and inpatient medicine patients has proven to limit the exposure to patients and employees,” the Community Memorial Team said. 

Professor Reinbold and Director of the Writing and Speaking Center Jennifer Lutman both state that they believe that residents and local government officials are taking the necessary steps to contain COVID-19.

“My overall impression is that there’s a sense of pride among our community and the local school system concerning our low case numbers and that this pride helps motivate the continued vigilance about safety measures,” Lutman said.

Colgate is continuing to monitor the change in numbers closely before making any decisions about students’ return to campus for the Spring Semester. President Brian Casey and Loveless both agree that it is too early to make a decision, and the situation must be closely followed.

“By far the most important factor we’re watching right now is hospital capacity, by far. New York State is now monitoring the movement of ICU cases. Normally, regional hospitals will send ICU cases to the larger hospitals in Syracuse. If we get to certain phases we run into a capacity issue right now … so we’re staying as close to the hospital as we can. [The capacity issue could keep us from coming back in the spring] largely because of, not our decision but, state guidance,” Casey said. “The plan is to open, obviously. We are watching this on an hourly basis.”

The public grade schools in Madison County are going remote until at least Jan. 4, 2021, and will continue to monitor the changes. Lutman, a parent of a twelve-year-old daughter in the Cazenovia Central School District, said that “The Cazenovia school system has been proactive and communicative,” referencing an email sent on Dec. 8 by Cazenovia Central School District Superintendent Matt Reilly discussing the increase in cases and the school district’s response.

“[The email is] representative of the kind of helpful updates [Reilly] sends immediately when something arises,” Lutman said. 

“With these [increasing COVID-19] trends in mind, understand that the need to transition from in-person to remote instruction correspondingly grows more likely,” Reilly said in his email to Cazenovia Central School District parents.   

Both Luttman and Reinbold praise the Colgate students for their vigilance in adhering to the safety precautions during the fall semester. However, Reinbold expresses concern in regard to the worsening weather. 

“It’s going to be a very different thing to quarantine and navigate Colgate’s social scenes in the middle of winter than it was during this beautiful fall. I am confident that we can do it, but I think it’s going to be harder and more tiring than it was this past semester,” Reinbold said. “Then again, maybe spring weather will come early this year.”