Freeman’s, Hometown Oneonta
Together, City Hall, 2 Colleges
Will Monitor COVID Threats
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – With 7,000 SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College students ready to come back to school at the end of the month, Mayor Gary Herzig is taking no chances when it comes to the community’s health and safety.
“We’re working on a dedicated tip line dedicated to COVID health concerns,” he said. “It’s not just for students, it’s for anyone with a public health concern.”
The phone line will go directly to the Oneonta Police Department, and reports can be made anonymously. “When that phone rings, whoever is there knows that it’s a public health emergency,” he said. “The person won’t have to fill out a report, and action can be taken immediately.”
Herzig is in the process of forming two working groups, one for each college, to keep on top of concerns for both students and city residents. “We want to monitor how we’re doing,” he said. “If we run into problems, we come up with a solution.”
Called the “SUNY Control Room” and modeled on the Mohawk Valley Regional Control Room that Herzig serves on, SUNY students, faculty and City Officials will hold a virtual meeting once a week to discuss concerns on and off campus.
A second group will be formed at Hartwick College, though Herzig stresses that the majority of students live on campus, rather than in off-campus housing.
“The colleges did a great job on their safety plans,” he said. “If we don’t have the same expectations of the students downtown, why should they go through all the trouble? The virus doesn’t care if you’re on campus or off.”
The ultimate issue, he said, is monitoring the number of COVID cases, but there will be ongoing discussions of compliance with state regulations. “The big concerns are house parties, over-crowding in bars and restaurants, and large groups downtown not wearing masks,” he said.
Bars and restaurants are already limited in capacity under state regulations, but among the proposals the Control Room is looking at is limiting Oneonta Public Transit runs in the evening to only the “essentials.”
“We don’t want to facilitate or encourage nightlife,” said Herzig. “We are all forgoing dining in restaurants or having a few drinks at a bar. Crowded buses are not something we want to see, and we don’t want so many people coming downtown that it gets overcrowded.”
There is also concern about house parties, which, Herzig said, is where the tip line comes in.
“Enforcement will fall to the Oneonta Police Department,” he said.
If a bar is found to be out of compliance, police can ask people to leave in order to bring the numbers into compliance. However, if the overcrowding is “extreme,” police are allowed to close the bar for the night and call in the State Liquor Authority the next day, who may pull the bar’s liquor license.
Herzig is also working with student associations to determine what bus routes and times meet those essentials, which include shopping, the library and night classes, and which can be limited.
However, he said, if there is no increase in cases, the Control Room can begin to relax restrictions, such as adding additional bus routes.
“My hope is that we get good compliance from everyone,” he said. “We all recognize the importance and the risks involved, and I think for the most part, the students want to do the right thing.”