With 284 new COVID positive test results in the past eight days, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente says the fall coronavirus surge that health experts have warned was coming, is here.

The county executive held a public briefing on the virus Monday afternoon, announcing 36 new cases since Sunday, and saying the majority of the 459 active cases in the county have resulted from lax behavior when it comes to COVID precautions, or outright disregard for social distancing and mask wearing.

The 459 active cases is the largest Oneida County has seen at one time. The county also announced a new death on Monday, the fifth fatality linked to coronavirus in the last two weeks.

Picente says approximately 100 of those active cases are tied to recent weddings, baby showers, Halloween parties, birthday parties or other small gatherings, in many cases involving participants who weren't wearing masks or social distancing. One such gathering, a wedding in Town of Trenton, that exceeded the 50-person limit, was attended by a local police officer who has since tested positive for the virus, resulting a shutdown of the Oneida County Child Advocacy Center - where that officer was assigned, he said.

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The county executive applauded the public for doing 'an outstanding job' in following guidelines to slow the spread of the virus since the pandemic began and said now is not the time to disregard those restrictions. 'Nothing has changed since March, we still have to deal with the virus,' he added. Otherwise, Picente said 'outside' entities, such as Governor Cuomo and New York State, could step-in to implement restrictions that may result in business closures.

'I do not want to close businesses, I do not want to close this community,' Picente said, while also cautioning residents that news of a possible vaccine coming soon isn't a signal to be irresponsible.

Picente said there are also several local businesses who are facing hearings for not following COVID-related restrictions. Those businesses could see fines ranging from $1,000 to as much $19,000, he said.

And, he's encouraging every local municipality to implement a COVID testing policy that would required government employees to be tested every two weeks. With winter approaching, a spread of the virus among public works employees that wipes out an entire snowplowing shift during a snow storm would be disasterous, he said. Picente added that he is looking into whether he could require such a testing policy for each municipality through executive order.

As recently as October 15th, Oneida County was reporting just one county resident hospitalized with the virus. As of Monday afternoon, that number was 29, 23 at MVHS and 6 more outside county, a reminder, Picente said, of how quickly things can change.

When asked if closing schools was currently a consideration to stop the spread, Picente replied, ''If the infection rate got really high or if there where outbreaks in schools we would consider taking some action. Quite frankly, schools aren't the problem, we've seen some cases but it's not what is driving our current increase.''

Numbers as of Monday afternoon:

New cases since Sunday: 36
New Deaths: 1 reported Monday, 5 in the last two weeks, 132 since the pandemic began
Active case total: 459 (is the highest active case total Oneida County has seen since the pandemic began)
Hospitalized county residents: 29

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