No Cases In City; SUNY Slows At 701


No Cases In City;

SUNY Slows At 701

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

ONEONTA – Finally, some good news in the COVID-19 outbreak.

Mayor Gary Herzig prepares to be swabbed by a Bassett Healthcare nurse at the COVID rapid testing site in the Foothills atrium this evening. (Ian Austin/

“From what I can see, there is no community transmission,” Heidi Bond, public health director, Otsego County Department of Health, said Tuesday, Sept. 8, as the daily infections on SUNY Oneonta dropped to 16 from the Friday, Sept. 4, peak of 134.

Beginning Wednesday, Sept. 2, nearly 2,000 rapid tests were conducted at the three Oneonta testing sites – St. James Episcopal Church, Foothills and the Oneonta Armory – with 91 positives. Of those, 85 were in the 18-24 range – all college students.

The remaining nine were linked to the student population – family and friends, for instance, according to Mayor Gary Herzig. The SUNY Oneonta total as of Tuesday was 701; Hartwick College cases stood at 11, stable since Sunday.

“It does appear we caught this on time,” said Herzig. “We were able to prevent it from spreading to the non-student population.”

Additionally, none of the faculty and staff at SUNY Oneonta had tested positive for the virus since the outbreak began Aug. 25.

Herzig credits quick action following reports of “too many parties” on Saturday, Aug. 22. “The next day, I notified Governor Cuomo’s office about my concern, even before we had a positive test,” he said. “Within 24 hours, I had a call from Chancellor (Jim) Malatras, and the governor had redirected four test sites” – three downtown; a fourth at the college – “to Oneonta. It was very helpful.”

When Malatras implemented mandatory saliva testing, the infected students were quickly identified.
“All of these actions resulted in a swift response,” he said. “We knew who had contracted the virus and isolated them.”

Bond also credits mask-wearing, frequent hand-washing and other “personal, protective precautions,” to keeping the virus at bay.

“People have been taking more precautions since that unfortunate Saturday night,” said Herzig.

AT SUNY, the majority of the students are “mildly symptomatic,” with sore throats, congestion, coughs and fevers, said Bond. One has developed COVID-related pneumonia, but none have been hospitalized.

“The Chancellor’s decision to close the school” – he did so at a press conference on campus Thurday, Sept. 3 – “was the right one,” said Herzig. “Given the spread, it was clear that it couldn’t be contained.”

Bond warned that several off-campus SUNY students had been issued citations by the county Department of Health for violating quarantine after they were found to have been “outside of their residence.”

“You can face civil charges for violating quarantine,” she said. “And we’ve been working with the school on students who are found to be in violation of their quarantine. They have avenues as well.”
But she said the majority of the students had been compliant. “There has to be a level of trust there,” she said. “We’re monitoring more than 400 students.”

The Department of Health does random check-ins with students, and Oneonta Police have volunteered to do drive-bys of quarantined students living off campus to make sure they’re obeying the order.

However, Herzig did recognize the economic impact the closure may have on Oneonta. “This is going to hurt our local businesses and the city finances,” he said. “And these impacts will have to be addressed.”

Though the on-campus students who tested negative have been ordered to leave campus, those who live off-campus are welcome to remain, said Herzig.

“They’re residents of the city,” he said. “They pay rent, and no authority can order them to leave. We will have many students who will live here and continue to study, and we want to talk about how all of us can make sure we hold onto the gains that we have achieved.”

To that end, Herzig said, the state left four of the rapid-test machines behind, and he is working with the Department of Health to schedule another round of free testing.

“We have a lot to be thankful for,” said Herzig. “Every one of us did our part, even if all you did was put on a mask. We have all acted together to prevent this from spreading out of control.”

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