ONEONTA – SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras convened a press conference at SUNY Oneonta’s Dewar Arena today, which ended just a few minutes ago, where he detailed measures taken to reduce a recurrence of COVID-19 in the college community when classes resume locally on Tuesday, Feb. 2.
The choice of Heidi Bond, “General in the Fight Against COVID-19,” as we put it, has been seconded by many since the “Citizen of the Year” edition appeared last week. She and her team at the Otsego County Department of Health rose to the challenge.
All of us thank her for her tireless contributions in 2020.
Otsego County has been lucky in leadership this year. Here are four other individuals who shone, and there are many others who, unheralded, have as well.
One, County Treasurer Allen Ruffles, who returned Jan. 20 from a 12-month deployment in Djibouti with the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion, Army Reserves, expecting to settle back into civilian life with wife Amy, daughter Mia, now 12, and son Cooper, 7.
Instead, he went from one foxhole to another.
By the end of March, he was in the midst of COVID-19, and county government found itself in a financial crisis, laying off 58 FTEs, and looking ahead to a hefty tax increase.
Then came the Ruffles Plan, which the first-term treasurer developed in consultation with colleagues in similar-sized counties: one, cuts; two, borrowing; three, chase limited money still flowing from Albany.
The plan reduced the deficit from $13.5 million to $5.4 million; borrows $4 million over 20 years at a historically low interest rate (1.0033 percent), and front-loads road work next spring (CHIPS money is still flowing from Albany).
This kept the county 2021 budget under the 2-percent tax cap.
Ruffles could have been buried under county-budgeting minutiae, but was able to see the big picture: COVID isn’t going to last forever – it could be at bay in weeks, certainly months. Then, tourism will return, sales tax will return – and the county will be able to fulfill its obligations.
Two, Tommy Ibrahim, recruited from nine-hospital Integris in Oklahoma with a goal of elevating quality and efficiency at the eight-county Bassett Healthcare Network, and returning it to profitability.
He arrived in June, and by December announced implementation of “OneBassett,” flattening the five “silos” – the five hospitals – and managing them horizontally, by discipline.
It’s hard to wrap one’s brain around, but Google “Bassett Hospital HR” and see how hiring, formerly scattered across the system, has been unified, a one-stop shop to getting a job at Basset, if you will.
Think it through. You can see how organizing and managing Bassett services individually – enabled by technology that wasn’t there a few years ago – could raise efficiency and lower costs across the board.
This isn’t just theoretical. Bassett has lost money for four years. Ibrahim – “call me Tommy,” he’ll say when you meet him – expects “OneBassett” to put the system at break-even by the end of 2021 and in the black after that.
A prosperous Bassett is essential to our aggregated health, prosperity and quality of life. Important stuff.
Three and Four: SUNY Oneonta’s new president, Dennis Craig, and the new SUNY chancellor, Jim Malatras.
A “super spreader” event on Friday, Aug. 21, the first weekend students returned, had pushed on-campus “positives” to 107 within a week.
Sunday, Aug. 30, the new chancellor was at SUNY Oneonta, trying to figure out what went wrong. And he acted, suspending classes for two weeks. As positives went over 300, he closed the campus for the semester.
By mid-October, campus President Barbara Jean Morris had resigned and, to succeed her, Malatras named Dennis Craig, who as president of SUNY Purchase kept a campus outbreak to seven cases in New Rochelle.
Craig’s action team came up with a plan of reopening within two weeks, and he successfully quelled a faculty revolt, and lined up enough support to aim at reopening on Feb. 1.
This is leadership.
In crisis, leaders emerge. And that happened here. Happily, identifying Heidi Bond and four other high-profile leaders doesn’t take anything away from the many others.
County Board chair David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Middlefield, as he does so well, brought together the talent around him – Ruffles, Meg Kennedy, Bond, Brian Pokorny and many others.
The mayors of Oneonta and Cooperstown, Gary Herzig and Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch respectively, Bill Streck in his final weeks at Bassett’s helm, and his COVID team, were all great.
And this doesn’t mention all of our fellow citizens who soldiered on – businesspeople and non-profits alike – and church, and schools, and police, and …
The point is, there are a lot of people we can thank as Otsego County begins to come back to life in 2021.
ONEONTA – After 100 students tested positive overnight to COVID-19, SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras returned to the campus for the third time in five days to announce he’s closing SUNY Oneonta for the fall semester, shifting all instruction online.
“We will address the spring semester at a later time,” he added.
In a 2 p.m. press conference next to the Chase Gym testing center, Malatras said he’s directed campus President Barbara Jean Morris to develop “a full transition plan” over the next two weeks that is “safe and effective” in enabling the 3,000 campus students to leave Oneonta safely and go home without threat to their families and hometowns.
Students in “isolation” will remain on campus until it is safe for them to depart, he said.
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.”
ONEONTA – SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras said Governor Cuomo is deploying a COVID-19 testing SWAT team to quell the worst outbreak of the disease in the 64-campus system.
Three sites will be set up by Wednesday, where all students will be required to get tested, and members of the community at large can get tested for free as well. The county Health Department is helping to coordinate the three sites.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck situation,” said Malatras, who moved up a summit with SUNY Oneonta President Barbara Jean Morris and Mayor Gary Herzig from Monday to today after infections rose to 105 cases overnight.
ONEONTA – SUNY’s new chancellor, Jim Malatras, will be in Oneonta Monday, meeting with the mayor and the local college president to ensure everything is being done to stem the worst outbreak of COVID-19 – 29 cases – among the system’s 64 institutions.
“We’re one SUNY family,” Malatras told WAMC Radio’s reporter Ian Pickus on Friday’s Midday Magazine in an interview that centered largely on SUNY Oneonta. “We’re going to harness all the firepower of SUNY.”
Mayor Gary Herzig said he, the new chancellor and SUNY Oneonta President Barbara Jean Morris will “sit down and talk about how things have been going.” Herzig, who’s been “disappointed” with Morris’ interface with City Hall, said of Malatras, “He’s been great. He’s been very, very cooperative, very hands-on.”
ONEONTA – Following an outbreak that has sickened 20 students on and off campus, SUNY new chancellor, Jim Malatras, has sent resources to pool-test the entire student population at SUNY Oneonta.
“Today is the perfect example of how the entire SUNY community can work together and take aggressive action to control COVID-19,” said Malatras, the president of Empire State College who was promoted to the top SUNY job just a week ago. “We must ramp up testing at SUNY Oneonta immediately, which is why I am sending personnel and resources to quickly pinpoint any other positive cases and isolate those with the coronavirus quickly. “We are using every measure to keep our campuses safe.”