By MICHAEL FORSTER ROTHBART • Special to wwwAllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – A new coronavirus outbreak at Hartwick College caused the school to switch all in-person classes to remote instruction for one day, the college announced Feb. 24. Twenty-three people were found COVID-positive in Tuesday’s testing, nearly doubling the total for the month.
Half a mile up the road, SUNY Oneonta has found 55 cases so far this semester, including three on Tuesday, after performing more than 10,000 coronavirus tests this year.
In a statement posted on Hartwick’s website, President Margaret L. Drugovich said, “Though these cases seem, for the most part, to be related to unsafe social behavior among groups of students, we are going to take several precautionary steps to protect our community until we assure that we have identified all cases.”
The college closed the gym, fitness centers, library, lounges and study rooms for the day. “I expect that we will be able to resume normal operations on Thursday 2/25,” Drugovich wrote to staff and students. The college started spring semester classes last week, with ninety percent of classes meeting in-person.
To date, the 2021 infection rate for Hartwick College is 5.7%, more than three times the rate for Otsego County as a whole. The college is testing all students and staff working on campus once per week; one in every 17 people on the campus have tested positive for COVID this year. There have been 77 confirmed cases since Jan. 1, out of an on-campus population of 1,368. In 2020, the college had 81 COVID-19 cases. These figures include all “students and employees who work, go to school or live on campus,” according to Hartwick media relations manager David Lubell, but not those working or studying remotely.
Dr. Diane Georgeson, City of Oneonta health officer, raised the question of whether or not the reported cases among college students are higher merely because they are being tested more regularly. “I think the real thing to know is that we’re not doing widespread testing at other places. This is a population we’re screening, and are the numbers of infected, positive students reflective of the general population or is it higher?” she asked. “It might be higher, and you know that’s something I think they’re watching really carefully.”
“Because think of it, they’re living, even with the dorms, even with the spacing, they’re effectively in a congregate setting which puts them at a higher risk,” she said.