Student parties lead to spike in coronavirus cases

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (WCAX) Plattsburgh saw a recent spike in coronavirus cases. Our Kelly O'Brien has been digging deeper into what exactly happened and has an update.

The Clinton County Health Department said they were expecting to see a small rise in cases as testing capabilities were expanded to meet the governor's reopening guidelines. What they did not expect was a cluster of cases stemming from off-campus college parties.

"I'm absolutely disheartened to see the surge in cases," said Mayor Colin Read, D-Plattsburgh. "I think it was avoidable."

Over the weekend, the Clinton County Health Department released new data showing that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and those in quarantine almost doubled in the county. Health officials say it was directly a result of off-campus parties with students from SUNY Plattsburgh congregating and failing to maintain social distancing guidelines.

"I would have hoped that common sense prevailed. Too many times it's the invulnerables that are ultimately going to risk the lives and livelihoods... it's just a shame," Read said.

The Health Department says nine students are confirmed with COVID-19. The students say they had attended one or two parties off-campus at the end of April, early May.

Another 27 people who attended those parties are now in quarantine to help stop the spread.

SUNY Plattsburgh said the off-campus students had remained in the area through the end of the semester and Saturday's college graduation.

They say they encourage students-- on campus or not-- to help prevent the spread of the virus and practice social distancing and that University Police are patrolling to help local law enforcement.

"Last thing I want to do is talk about what happens when you let your guard down," Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said.

Levine addressed the rise in Clinton County, New York, at Vermont Gov. Phil Scott's daily briefing. Vermont, like Northern New York, has seen low numbers of coronavirus cases. But Levine says Plattsburgh shows how quickly that can change when not following the guidelines set by health officials.

"Some of these behaviors and these behavior changes that we've asked everyone to adapt to and to really become a part of what they need to do every day, they actually do need to continue no matter how good the data begins to look," Levine said.

Mayor Read says he hopes this one incident doesn't hinder the hard work the resident- who are following the rules have done.

"Clinton County and the North Country have received the very highest marks across the entire state, so we will get through this blip but I hope we've learned something," Read said.

WCAX News asked the Health Department whether any of the students knew they had the virus going into the party or were asymptomatic. We did not hear back before this story was published.