By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – As this week began, only 158 SUNY Oneonta students and residence assistants were left on campus. In a normal year, that would have been over 3,000 of the 6,000+ enrollment.
“At present, there are only three SUNY students in isolation on campus,” Diane Georgeson, Oneonta Public Health officer, told Common Council during her report on Tuesday, Sept. 15. “There are 52 in isolation off campus.”
The majority of the students staying on campus, Mayor Gary Herzig said, had applied to stay because they do not have “acceptable living conditions” at home.
On Sunday, Sept. 13, the campus reported no new cases of COVID-19. Tuesday, Sept. 15, the Otsego County Health Department reported only two cases, after a week of largely single-digit reports, and after peaks of 120 on Sept. 4 and 107 on Sept. 2.
“We’re seeing a significant decline,” said Georgeson. “And we are cautiously optimistic that there was no community spread.”
Campus spokesman Kim MacLeod declared “success,” and credited “swift actions of discipline, rapid testing of all students, immediate contract tracing that led students to be isolated and quarantined.”
The county Health Department (DOH) has termed what happened a “large outbreak.” Looking back, county Public Health Director Heidi Bond said this week, “We did not expect the degree of how fast it happened.”
Georgeson said that studies have begun to determine whether the infection was from “a different strain” of the virus. “The majority of the infected only got mildly sick and recovered quickly,” she said. “We saw such a rapid spread and apparent ready transmission, but little illness.”
Of those that got sick, she said, only three had pneumonia, and “a few” went to the emergency room with severe symptoms, but none were hospitalized.
The final numbers were firming up, the DOH and SUNY Oneonta’s tallies were still far apart. Monday, the DOH was reporting total positive cases at 684; the campus put the number at 723.
These divergences were said to result from different reporting cycles.
When 105 cases were reported overnight Saturday, Aug. 30, SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras visited that Sunday afternoon and closed the campus for two weeks; he returned the following Thursday, Sept. 3, and announced it would close for the semester.
“A lot of students left campus immediately,” said Heidi Bond, the county public health director.
Nearly 3,000 students were screened over Labor Day Weekend, Sept. 5-7, and large-scale quarantines and isolations followed, according to MacLeod.
At that point, she said, the county DOH initiated tracing – determined who the infected students may have come into contact with. Once students who were infected were released from isolation, they are free to go home and “there is no need for further contact,” she said.
However, students can continue to have access to faculty, telehealth and telecounseling services, MacLeod said.
Across the valley on Oyaron Hill, Hartwick College was reporting 15 confirmed cases on Tuesday, Sept. 15, but were confident enough that students were returning to classrooms the following day.
“Face-to-face, personal instruction is a pillar of Hartwick’s educational mission, as it has been for 223 years,” said Hartwick President Margaret L. Drugovich.
“Our students have made it clear that they want to return to the classroom, and the vast majority have demonstrated they can and will honor the rules we’ve put in place to control the spread of COVID-19,” she said in announcing classes would resume.