SUNY-O’s COVID Toll Heads For 300+
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Within one week, SUNY Oneonta’s COVID-19 explosion appears to have toppled face-to-face on-campus learning.
“We are going to reassess in two weeks,” said Kim MacLeod, college spokesperson. “But of all the possible outcomes, going fully remote has the biggest potential to be the outcome.”
According to SUNY Oneonta’s figures, 245 students had tested positive as of press time Tuesday evening, Sept. 1, and number were expected to rise over 300 on Wednesday.
Three dorms with 137-student capacity were being prepared for quarantines and isolations, but it was feared that wasn’t enough. More rooms had been rented for that purpose at the Courtyard by Marriott on Southside.
Governor Cuomo’s virus-testing SWAT team was in the city, setting up sites at Foothills, the Armory and St. James Episcopal Church. Testing is 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.
All Greater Oneonta residents are being urged to participate. To make an appointment, call 833-697-8764 (NYSTRNG).
“We are very serious about containing this virus,” said MacLeod.
“Obviously this came on fast and hard.” BARBARA JEAN MORRIS, SUNY Oneonta president
On Tuesday, Aug. 25, the first two students, living off-campus, tested positive after attending one of – in SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras’ words – “several large parties” blamed on three athletic teams.
“We had a super-spreader event last weekend with three athletic teams who invited first-year students to a party, then those students came back to campus,” SUNY Oneonta president Barbara Jean Morris told the “Oneonta Control Group” – a town-gown assembly – at its first meeting Monday, Aug. 31.
By Sunday, Aug. 30, those cases had topped 105 – up from 14 on Friday, prompting Malatras to move his scheduled Monday meeting up a day, citing the school as the “worst outbreak in the 64 SUNY school system.”
“This is an all-hands-on-deck situation,” he told a press conference on the quad in front of Chase Gym, where undergrads were lined up for testing.
The school ordered 3,000 rapid-tests for staff and students, who could take the test or face suspension. Meanwhile, the three dorms were being evacuated by 5 p.m. Tuesday to house those who tested positive.
It was off-campus students who were being sent to the Marriott or asked to go home.
The county Department of Health is doing a daily video check-in with quarantined students, and Oneonta police are doing random drive-bys to make sure quarantined students are home.
A week after the first two students tested positive, the cases neared 300. “We expect there will be over 300 positive by the end of the week,” said Mayor Gary Herizg, or perhaps as soon as Wednesday.
“We are now asking all students to refrain from interacting with SUNY students.” MARGARET L. DRUGOVICH, Hartwick College president
Meanwhile, at Hartwick College, only two students have tested positive, but President Margaret L. Drugovich Tuesday took classes remote for two weeks as a precautionary measure.
“We want to take every step that we can now to stop possible further spread of the virus,” she wrote to students and staff. “Our campus-based testing protocol (every two weeks until Nov. 20) will continue. If you have any concerns about your health or potential exposure, I encourage you to also take advantage of the rapid-testing sites that have been established by New York State in Oneonta.”
Students were required to show a negative COVID test before they arrived on campus last week, and those who traveled from “high risk” states were still placed in quarantine as a precaution.
But after the SUNY outbreak, Drugovich told the Control Room that 38 students were placed in quarantine after they were found to have had contact with a SUNY Oneonta student.
“We asked students to come forward if they or their roommate had contact,” she said. “And we are now asking all students to refrain from interacting with SUNY students.”
Additionally, 36 other students remain in state-mandated quarantine after coming to campus from “high-risk” states. Three students, Drugovich said, were suspended for throwing a party off-campus.
“They broke the rules of the social contract,” she said. “They have been put on administrative leave and were not allowed to enroll in their fall classes.”
Hartwick students are required to do daily self check-ins and undergo COVID testing every other week, and although 75 percent of classes are held in-person, they are hybrid and socially distanced.
“It’s working very well and it is very reassuring,” said Julian Kovacs, a Hartwick student. “I know that when I leave my dorm, I’m safe and the people around me are safe.”
“Until we have those results, we don’t know the extent of spread.” MAYOR GARY HERZIG
Since the start of the SUNY outbreak, three people in the Oneonta community have tested positive for COVID-19, according to county Public Health Director Heidi Bond.
Assisting the SWAT team, Bond’s staff will deploy 71 contact tracers and eight case investigators.
“Anyone who thinks they may have had contact or aren’t feeling well, for their health, everyone else’s, get tested,” said Herzig.
More than that, he said, the testing will give the city information on whether or not the outbreak has spread from the college into the community.
“Until we have those results, we don’t know the extent of the spread,” he said. “Right now, we have no reason to believe this has spread. We do believe we have caught this in time. Shutting down the college is
going to allow us to stop the spread, but the widespread testing will allow us to confirm.”
Herzig said he has scheduled his own test.
“If we find there has been very little transmission, we’ll all breathe that sigh of relief and that we can continue to reopen and move forward without concern,” he said. “But if we see there has been spread, we have to work closely with DOH to determine if we have to have restrictions.”
Presently, Cuomo had no plans to visit the college, he did have words for the students who violated the SUNY’s COVID Code of Conduct.
“You wanted to party, now you have to stay in your dorm room,” he said.
And he had a warning for any other college students across the state who might be willing to risk it all for a night on the town. “When you get suspended, you can explain that when you get home,” he said. “You can party with your parents.”