By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Following an outbreak that has sickened 20 students on and off campus, SUNY new chancellor, Jim Malatras, has sent resources to pool-test the entire student population at SUNY Oneonta.
“Today is the perfect example of how the entire SUNY community can work together and take aggressive action to control COVID-19,” said Malatras, the president of Empire State College who was promoted to the top SUNY job just a week ago. “We must ramp up testing at SUNY Oneonta immediately, which is why I am sending personnel and resources to quickly pinpoint any other positive cases and isolate those with the coronavirus quickly. “We are using every measure to keep our campuses safe.”
The pooled testing allows for about 10-25 people to be screened in one test. The testing can be done using saliva rather than by swabs that are inserted in a patient’s nose. The samples are combined into one, which is tested for coronavirus.
According to Hal Legg, chief communications officer, all students who live on-campus, use campus facilities or come to campus for classes will be required to be tested, and those who decline will be placed on interim suspension. Testing will also be available for students who live off campus and take classes remotely.
A negative test means that all 10-25 people in the group are presumed at the time to be coronavirus-free. A positive test for the pool would mean every person in that group would need to be individually tested by a PCR test. The pooled saliva testing simplifies sample collection processes, making it feasible to collect samples at a large scale and during a short period of time.
“Being able to conduct hundreds of tests daily will give us a more complete picture of the virus in our population and will help contain it,” said Barbara Jean Morris, SUNY Oneonta president. “Because of our commitment to safeguarding the health and well-being of our campus as well as the Oneonta community, we have made testing mandatory for students.”
“By implementing pooled surveillance testing, SUNY is taking every precaution at its disposal to protect both these students, and the people they come into contact with around our city,” said Mayor Gary Herzig. “By all of us working together, I am confident we can keep both our students and year-round residents safe and healthy.”
Since Tuesday, 20 students have tested positive for COVID, with the majority of them showing symptoms, according to Heidi Bond, Otsego County Public Health director. The cases reportedly stemmed from an off-campus party, but some of those who got sick did not attend, and caught it from people who did attend.
Following the three days of testing, Chancellor Malatras is expected to visit the campus next week to get a report on cases and review all reopening plans in place.