COVID-19 Update: First Death in Onondaga County; Possible Public Exposure at Syracuse Church

Mar 24, 2020

This screenshot shows where confirmed COVID-19 cases are located in Onondaga County.

Onondaga County has lost its first resident to COVID-19.  County Executive Ryan McMahon shared the somber news at Tuesday afternoon’s update.  

"We never wanted to deliver this news, but we knew this could be part of this process.  If you reflect on how quickly this can move and how real this is, just 8 days ago we had our first case in the community.  And here we are."

The county isn’t sharing any specifics about the deceased other than the person was elderly and hospitalized.  He says seniors, especially those with underlying health conditions, are in for a fight if they get the virus.

"We're going to have more of our neighbors who win that fight.  But this is a sobering reality for everyone that this is why we're having everyone do what they do right now.  We are making tough decisions and are inconveniencing the public because this could be you or your loved one."

There are now 60 total cases in the county, up from 53 Monday.  Eight are in the hospital; three are critical and five are stable.  McMahon says there are still hundreds of outstanding tests, including the surge of people who got tested at the triage site last week.  Most should be back by Friday.

"We will have an idea on what our curve looks like.  Maybe at some point, we'll start to see our curve flatten first, then bend a little as people start getting better.  That does not mean we're out of the woods.  The challenge is how we keep that going in the right way.  That's why the social distancing for 2-3 weeks gives you time to bend the curve and stop the new cases."

Meanwhile, county health officials are asking for help in another possible case of public exposure.  It happened Sunday, March 15th at Bethany Baptist Church on Beattie Street.  McMahon says a person who attended the 11 am service has tested positive, but that doesn’t mean everyone there was exposed.

Onondaga County reports COVID-19 exposure at Bethany Baptist Church on Beattie St. in Syracuse.

"All close contacts of the individual have been contacted by our health department.  We are asking for help in this investigation.  If you went to church that day, certainly if you have a cough or difficulty breathing, we ask that you put yourself in quarantine immediately and contact yoru doctor."

McMahon says they only send out a public notification when there are gaps in their investigations.  He says most are concluded when officials are comfortable with the results and that impacted people are in quarantine. 


The Syracuse Financial Empowerment Center (FEC) will remain open for business remotely to Syracuse residents in need of financial counseling as a result of COVID-19.  In a release, city officials say an increase in employee layoffs has triggered a growing demand to understand and utilize resources in place to provide financial relief.  The Syracuse FEC professional counselors are scheduling appointments, and meeting with clients virtually to connect them with economic options.

Credit City of Syracuse

The disruption caused by the Coronavirus has not only affected businesses in our community, but also the many employees who depend on paychecks from those businesses to keep a roof over their heads, food in the fridge, and the bills paid,”  Walsh said.  “By offering City residents the opportunity to work with professionals at no cost to adjust to various financial situations during this extremely challenging time, the Syracuse FEC is providing a much needed service.”

Emergency aid measures taken at the state and federal level have considered the many ways in which COVID-19 has impacted people already. Efforts to curb the financial hits people will take include: the suspension of student loan and medical debt collection; mortgage refinancing and waiver options; utility payment holds; and ceasing foreclosure procedures.

Counselors are preparing to help residents navigate and assess their eligibility for all of the new financial resources being released to the public. An influx in the number of calls that will come through for appointments is anticipated as the Syracuse FEC continues to serve as a financial stability asset in the community.

The Syracuse Financial Empowerment Center was launched in July 2019.  Since then, counselors have held more than 650 sessions with 330 unique clients. Overall debt reduction for clients has grown to $176,452. Just over 100 delinquent accounts have been made whole.

Residents interested in making an appointment with a counselor for the first time can register through the registration portal, email:, or call 315-474-1939 ext. 5. Returning clients can call the same number to set up a follow-up appointment.