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More COVID-19 deaths as Chemung, Steuben prepare for new state-imposed restrictions

Jeff Murray
Elmira Star-Gazette

Chemung County is reporting more cases of COVID-19 and two more coronavirus-related deaths as the county prepares for looming state-imposed restrictions.

Restrictions that were imposed on non-essential businesses, churches and other entities within a new "orange zone" take effect at midnight Thursday, county officials said.

Schools within the orange zone will have to convert to all virtual learning for now. That requirement goes into effect Monday.

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the new restrictions Wednesday, the boundaries of the orange zone and the deadlines for enforcing the new restrictions were unclear, according to Chemung County Executive Christopher Moss.

Businesses, schools, and other entities within an orange zone in the Elmira area are facing new restrictions due to a COVID-19 resurgence.
Steuben County yellow zone.

The restrictions are in response to a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases over the past five weeks.

As of Thursday, Chemung County had 1,167 confirmed cases of the virus, compared to only 177 cases Sept. 8. That includes 170 active cases and 28 people who are hospitalized.

County officials also reported two more COVID-19-related deaths Thursday, bringing the total to 12 deaths in the county.

The latest victims are a 73-year-old woman from the City of Elmira and an 80-year-old man from the Town of Big Flats.

In early September, the county had four confirmed deaths, all of them occurring before June.

The orange zone encompasses most of the City of Elmira, Village of Elmira Heights and Village and Town of Horseheads.

It is surrounded by a "yellow zone" that includes part of the towns of Big Flats, Elmira, and Southport.

Under state guidelines, non-essential businesses in an orange zone — such as gyms, barber shops and manicurists — will have to close again temporarily.

Houses of worship have to limit attendance to 33% capacity, mass gatherings are limited to 10 people, and restaurants can only offer outdoor dining.

All schools within an orange zone have to provide remote learning only. 

Because this is not an emergency closure, the Elmira City School District will continue in-person instruction as planned Friday, according to district spokeswoman Beth Manwaring.

Starting Monday, all students in the district will switch to remote learning, Manwaring said.

All schools in the Elmira Heights Central School District fall within the orange zone and will transition to remote learning Monday, according to Superintendent Michael Gill.

More:COVID-19 exposure risks at 6 locations, Steuben County officials say

We went into that planning this summer with an approach that was striving for 'closure-proof' curriculum," Gill said. "Many of the skills that have been developed by all involved over the past few weeks now become the pillars for learning while on remote."  

The Horseheads Central School District was already on a full virtual schedule, but had planned on resuming a hybrid model of in-school and at-home learning Monday.

However, six of the seven schools in the district are within the orange zone, meaning only Big Flats Elementary School, which is outside both the orange and yellow zones, will be able to return to the hybrid schedule.

"At this time, we do not know when our six schools may reopen to in-person learning," Superintendent Thomas Douglas said in a letter to parents. "We are solely under the direction of the governor and New York State Department of Health in terms of any transitioning of zones or reopening of schools affected by the governor’s directives."

In yellow zones, businesses can remain open, churches can have up to 50% capacity, restaurants can offer indoor dining, and mass gatherings are limited to 25 people.

The state also imposed a yellow zone on southeastern Steuben County, incorporating the greater Corning-Painted Post area and surrounding environs.

Steuben County has also seen a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths, driven primarily by an outbreak at the Corning Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare.

Schools in yellow zones are not required to close, but are required to conduct weekly testing, and the Corning-Painted Post School District will temporarily abandon its hybrid model because of the testing requirement.

"This is not an emergency closure, so we plan to stay in our hybrid model the rest of this week, with a transition to 100% remote learning for all students sometime early next week," Superintendent Michelle Caulfield said in a message to parents.

"A factor in the decision to move to 100% remote learning is the capacity of the district to meet the State guidance to COVID test 20% of the district population while we are in this zone," Caulfield said. "Because this would require almost 1,100 tests per week, we are unable to remain in our hybrid model."

As of Thursday, Steuben County as a whole had 958 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 73 deaths.

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