LIFE IN THE TIME OF COVID-19
By RICHARD STERNBERG • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” wrote George Santayana.
What about the recent history of the spread of COVID-19 and the attempted reopening of colleges was so difficult for SUNY Oneonta to learn?
How can you trust 6,000 adolescents and very young adults to do what is correct when set free after being cooped up at home with their parents for six months?
Why are we now having a health crisis locally, which was preventable, which will definitely cause long-term disability and perhaps cause the death of some community members?
How does one private college do so much better in protecting its students and community then a public college in the same town, given the public one has more resources and certainly has more personnel to deal with the problem?
Otsego County and the City of Oneonta had been doing so well in keeping down the number of COVID 19 cases. Then students came back to town.
Hartwick College came up with a comprehensive plan that effectively tracked every single student and placed them in a bubble on campus.
No student was to leave campus. No living in outside housing. They required a contract between school and the students on how the students would behave and were prepared to enforce it.
They made sure that there would be social distancing between all students at all times. Hartwick has had one positive case.
SUNY Oneonta seems to have relied on completely responsible behavior and self-reporting on the part of its students. It refused to allow an open letter to the entire college community from Oneonta’s mayor to be distributed to the students; it included warning them of the consequences of violating the law.
When cases started popping up, the mayor requested a meeting with the president of the college and was denied it.
At last count (Tuesday morning) we have 178 active cases in the city, most of them among students and contrary to what the students expected, a lot of them are getting sick.
Now that the case numbers are getting higher and the SUNY chancellor just came to the college to see for himself what is going on and speak to the administration, we are finally getting a response. Still the response seems to be relying too much on students doing the right thing.
In my opinion, the following needs to be done.
Unfortunately, not acting earlier requires somewhat draconian measures now.
Any student not properly social distancing and wearing a mask or otherwise violating rules needs to be suspended immediately and, in the more extreme cases, expelled. Students who knows of a violation and does not report it must suffer consequences themselves. (This is essentially the service academies’ Code of Honor).
Only students who are living on campus, where the environment can be controlled to any extent, should be allowed to attend classes in person. Some exceptions might be made for graduate students.
Campus police, city police, the county sheriff’s department, and state police now must aggressively enforce state and local laws and executive emergency orders.
No exception. No further warnings – 245 cases are warning enough (and by the time this is printed and read, I predict at least twice as many known cases).
Citizens notifying the police of violations need to have their identity protected to prevent retribution.
Aggressive testing has been started in the community and this will need to be continued.
A local law to mandate mask wearing everywhere in public needs to be implemented and enforced.
Does it also now need a sharp uptick in local fatalities to initiate further action?
Possibly this outbreak can be turned around with minimal damage to the health and welfare of the citizens of the City and County and a slowing of damage to the students. Only highly aggressive actions now are acceptable.