Coronavirus cases are on the rise in Broome County as students and residents go to local restaurants and bars while ignoring social distancing guidelines.
As of Sept. 30, there are 193 active cases in the county and 85 active cases in the city of Binghamton. During a press conference on Wednesday, Broome County Executive Jason Garnar said 21 cases are from Binghamton University students. New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted on Sept. 28 about a cluster of COVID-19 cases from a pub in Broome County, and local health officials have released several notices informing patrons of Binghamton-area restaurants that they may have been in contact with someone who has since tested positive for COVID-19. Garnar emphasized that most cases were tied to restaurants and bars. Some of these restaurants include Michelangelo’s Pizzeria and Ristorante, Dillinger’s Celtic Pub & Eatery, The Old Union Hotel and more.
Tom & Marty’s Town House, a local bar frequented by students, closed indefinitely on Sept. 30 due to staff member testing positive for COVID-19 on Sept. 28, according to the Twitter account @tomandmartys. In the same Twitter thread, Larry Shea, the owner of the bar, said he thinks he has contacted every person who visited the bar the same nights this employee was working. Shea has posted his cell phone number on his Twitter page asking students he may have missed who frequented the bar any time between Sept. 23 and Sept. 26 to contact him with any questions. While this is not a formal contact-tracing measure, Shea said he will be fully cooperating with the Broome County Health Department.
In an effort to combat potential clusters of COVID-19 stemming from local restaurants, Binghamton Mayor Richard David’s office announced in a press release on Sept. 30 that the city is increasing occupancy compliance checks at Binghamton restaurants and taverns in coordination with local police and fire departments.
“The departments will proactively visit every restaurant and tavern in the city with the goal of promoting compliance and keeping the community safe,” David said. “It’s incumbent upon every resident to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines and help stop the spread.”
Under current New York state guidelines, restaurants in Broome County must limit indoor dining to 50 percent of their normal maximum occupancy and space tables six feet apart or put up barriers.
Ellie Casterline, a senior majoring in English, said patrons are also partly to blame.
“I think because we’re a low-populated area and very spaced out, people feel as if they’re not necessarily affected by [COVID-19] in the same way as people from more densely populated areas,” Casterline said. “People have a lack of fear of [COVID-19], and, because of that, they might not be following guidelines. But, ultimately, when patrons go to restaurants and don’t wear masks, the worst that can happen is they get kicked out of the restaurant, but if someone reports the restaurant because customers aren’t wearing masks, they can be fined or shut down.”
Although cases have been traced back to restaurants, some BU students are concerned that parties and large gatherings thrown by student groups could also be contributing to the rise in cases in Binghamton and Broome County.
Jaclyn Tung, a junior majoring in accounting, said most students are doing a good job following social distancing guidelines and University rules. However, Tung is worried that the students who don’t follow the rules are contributing to the new rise in cases as students grow bored and want to get out of their dorm rooms and apartments.
“I think we’ve done a good job so far in keeping numbers down as a University and a county, but the slight uptick is making me a bit anxious,” Tung said. “I feel like the majority of students are listening to the rules. We haven’t had parties and have followed the guidelines, but I feel like as the semester progresses, the small number of students who are going out partying has increased as people are becoming restless and want the ‘full college experience.’”
Kevin Castro, a junior majoring in psychology, said students who are going out and ignoring guidelines are putting the entire campus at risk.
“I don’t want to be sent home because of a health emergency,” Castro wrote. “I don’t want [BU] to become like other schools that were already sent home. I’m trying to stay at college!”
COVID-19 cases are on the rise in New York City and counties across the state. In order to keep track of Broome County’s cases, visit the COVID-19 dashboard here.