COOPERSTOWN – While the flood of COVID cases at SUNY Oneonta is past, new cases still are dribbling in: two involving students in the past three days, county Public Health Director Heidi Bond reported this afternoon.
Before that, only two cases had been reported since Thursday, Oct. 8.
So far, SUNY Oneonta accounts for 744 of 927 that surfaced in Otsego County since the start of the pandemic threat.
At Hartwick College, there have been no cases in several days.
As of today, there are eight active cases in the county, two hospitalizations and seven deaths.
ONEONTA – With five days of zero COVID-19 cases, SUNY Oneonta is finally breathing a sigh of relief.
“It’s the longest since the college’s first cases were reported on Tuesday Aug. 25,” said Hal Legg, chief communication & marketing officer. “We’re very encouraged.”
With a total of 712 cases since the outbreak, including one employee, the Oneonta campus is seeing cases decline substantially. Between Thursday, Oct. 1, and Wednesday, Oct. 7, there were nine cases. From Thursday, Oct. 8, to Tuesday, Oct. 13, there were only two.
“We’re pleased the numbers have dropped off,” said Legg. “It’s a trend we hope to continue.
By press-time Tuesday evening, Oct. 13, at Hartwick College only one case has surfaced since Oct. 8, with no cases the previous week and two in late September. The student is quarantining at home, and no students are in quarantine on campus.
In all, 21 Hartwick students tested positive following the SUNY outbreak.
“We have been very vigilant in all our precautions,” said Karen McGrath, VP for enrollment & student experience. “We made it clear what our expectations were – wearing a face covering at all times, practicing social distancing – and we held students to those expectations. I think it really had a dramatic effect on our rate of transmission.”
Classes have returned to in-person after a two-week campus lockdown, and although in-person dining has reopened, McGrath said dining options have been expanded to better suit students who might not want to eat even in a socially distanced dining hall.
“We’ve got a mobile app for to-go orders, and we’ve added a food truck on the opposite end of campus from the dining hall,” she said. “We expanded these options to better meet the needs of the students who’d rather get their meals to go.”
They’ve also added a delivery app, where Aramark, the food service company, will bring basic groceries, such as milk, bread and cereal, to dorm rooms. “It’s our version of Instacart,” she said. “This way, they don’t have to leave campus to get groceries.”
“All of these dining changes were ones we were thinking about pre-COVID,” she said. “Students want more dining options, while still giving public health considerations.”
By JIM KEVLIN & LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – With the resignation of Dr. Barbara Jean Morris, new SUNY Oneonta interim president Dennis Craig is ready to hear both the good and the bad about how the campus can recover from the COVID-19 outbreak that infected more than 700 students less than week after classes resumed.
“I want to foster an atmosphere where everyone can speak frankly,” he said. “I want to get a back-and-forth dialogue going about what went wrong. People on this campus did a tremendous amount of work, and I appreciate that.”
Craig’s appointment was announced at a 12:30 p.m. press conference called by SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras. “SUNY Oneonta is at a critical juncture and Acting President Craig will bring steady, focused, and collaborative leadership to the campus,” said Malatras.
COVID-19 numbers are rising again nationally, but we’re zigging as the nation zags.
As this edition went to press Tuesday, Oct. 13, SUNY Oneonta had not reported a single COVID case in the previous five days.
This, in an institution that had 100 infestations in one night at the end of August. Since infections there totaled 712, and they closed the campus until after Thanksgiving.
So zero-zero-zero-zero-zero is particularly welcome news.
Hartwick College, across the valley, reported no cases last week, and only a single one in the last couple of days.
Likewise, the county Health Department is reporting four infections in five days, an average of less than one a day, although a hospitalization, reported Tuesday, was the first in weeks.
Of course, our county has a relatively small population of 61,000 souls, but let’s give ourselves credit.
It’s the rare person you run into who isn’t wearing a mask or practicing social distancing. Establishments are enforcing “No Mask, No Service,” and both Oneonta and Cooperstown have toughened laws in the face of the pandemic threat.
Happily, the fellow who spray-painted black “X’s” on the “Mask on Main” signs at the edge of the Business District has been charged. But it just goes to show, not everybody’s bought in.
Who isn’t in favor of freedom? But there’s such a thing as common sense, too. And let’s remember, wearing a mask protects the people we run into more than ourselves. Do we need a law to be caring
Let’s stay the course. It’s paying off. Let’s breathe easier – and stick with it.
Downtown Oneonta was filled with seasonal flair this afternoon as Hartwick and SUNY students gathered with merchants to stuff and hang “branded” scarecrows from light poles as part of the Town-Gown Work Group collaboration. Above, Hartwick Student Government Association members and college seniors Jennifer Paszko, and Lydia Mateney, work at filling the body of a scarecrow with newspapers outside of GOHS. At right, members of the Kappa Sigma fraternity Dalton Wooder helps Betsy Cunningham, owner of Artware, and Susan Blass, Oneonta, decorate the Artware scarecrow outside the store. The scarecrows will remain on display throughout the month of October. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
ONEONTA – One month after a COVID-19 outbreak infected more than 700 students, the first SUNY Oneonta employee has tested positive, Kim MacLeod, Associate Director of Communications, announced this evening.
According to MacLeod, the affected employee was last on campus yesterday and is now isolating at home. Per its Fall 2020 Re-start Plan protocol, the college has performed enhanced cleaning in the affected employee’s workspace and all communal spaces the employee recently occupied.
COOPERSTOWN – Nine SUNY Oneonta students, one Hartwick College student and five county residents have tested positive for COVID in the past four days, according to a press release from Heidi Bond, public health director, Otsego County Department of Health.
Of the nine SUNY students, she said, five of those are new infections, with the other four students having already recovered, but had not been reported as being positive to the health department until now.
As a retired SUNY Oneonta professor of biology, I have been following the local and national coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak on the campus. Here are some thoughts on the coverage.
SUNY Oneonta’s planning for reopening for the fall semester began in April with widespread input from all stakeholders on campus. The Local Control Group, which includes representation from the City of
Oneonta and the Otsego County Department of Public Health, also provided input.
At this time there were many questions about COVID-19 testing, including who should be tested, availability of tests, cost of testing, and reliability of testing procedures.
The draft plan for the fall 2020 semester, which did include a statement saying that prior to returning “students must attest to having no COVID-19 symptoms and no known infection” but no mandatory testing, was submitted on June 1 and subsequently approved by SUNY, the state Department of Health, and the State of New York in July.
Sixty other SUNY campuses also had their plans approved requiring no mandatory testing.
As students began returning to colleges and universities around the country, we began to hear of COVID-19 outbreaks on their campuses. Since the coronavirus does not discriminate, all types of schools were affected including public and private, big and small, elite and non-elite.
As the semester began here for SUNY Oneonta, a small group of students, making up less than 1 percent of the SUNY Oneonta student population, held an outdoor gathering off campus.
This led to 672 positive COVID-19 cases since Aug. 24, the disruption of campus life for over 7,000 students, faculty, and staff, and untold loss of revenue for the businesses and restaurants in the City and Town of Oneonta.
One possibility for the rapid spread of infections among this student population, and in other rapid epidemiological events around the country, could be that the coronavirus mutated into a new strain. Epidemiologists are now looking into just such a possibility.
Fortunately, there has been no community spread as reported by the county Department
of Public Health and no deaths. Unfortunately, the reputation and credibility of SUNY Oneonta and its administration has been called into question.
SUNY Oneonta has faced many challenges since its beginnings in 1889 as a State Normal School. I am confident that going forward the college will continue to maintain the quality of education and student life that SUNY Oneonta has become known for.
SUNY Oneonta merits strong support as it faces this newest challenge.
WILLIAM J PIETRAFACE, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus, Biology SUNY Oneonta Oneonta
COOPERSTOWN – There’s a difference between grads and undergrads, said Gretchen Sorin, Cooperstown Graduate Program director.
“The graduate students are adults,” she said. “They know how to behave. The undergrads are less grown-up.”
Following SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras’ announcement Thursday, Sept. 3, that the SUNY Oneonta campus would close for the remainder of the semester, students reached out to Sorin, panicked that they also would be sent home.
This was not the case, however, and classes were allowed to continue.
“We’ve been very careful,” she said. “We’ve really emphasized following the guidelines that SUNY Oneonta gave us.”
Sorin didn’t blame SUNY Oneonta President Barbara Jean Morris for the outbreak that caused 651 students to test positive for COVID-19.
“No one could have expected what happened to happen,” she said. “I was involved with the dean, and I know a lot of planning went into it. I’m sad this happened, but she wasn’t at fault.”
Though CGP classes are being held virtually for the fall semester, students have access to the CGP building, where they can use the printer, scanners, computers and study spaces – but only if they’ve tested negative.
“All of our 47 students have tested negative,” she said.
Students will also be subject to pool testing throughout the semester, and many quarantined even before coming to the county, as well as for 14 days once they arrived.
“So many were afraid that their state would be put on the ‘hot spot’ list, so they went ahead and quarantined at home anyways,” she said. “We sent weekly emails advising students which states were on the list.”
ONEONTA – Hartwick College Margaret Drugovich has a message for students unhappy with the school’s stringent COVID-19 code of conduct.
“We’re asking the students who don’t want to follow our rules to volunteer to leave campus,” said Drugovich during a meeting of Mayor Gary Herzig’s Oneonta Control Room on Monday, Sept. 7. “As hard as it is to say, if you violate our rules, you have to be gone.”
The crackdown was in high contrast to SUNY Oneonta, where, with 701 COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, Sept. 8, two weeks after asymptomatic students transmitted the virus at “several large parties” off campus, a photo of students partying last weekend in Tobey Hall, reserved for students who have tested positive for COVID-19, made the rounds on social media.
Currently, 43 students are quarantined on the campus, with 139 in isolation after testing positive for the virus.
In contrast to Drugovich’s hard line, SUNY Oneonta President Barbara Jean Morris told the Control Room RAs check students during the day, University Police drive by, but in the evening, there is no adult in the building. “No one is inside,” she admitted.
Council member David Rissberger, Third Ward, voicing concern at the photo, said, “There’s no supervision, and the community needs reassurances that moving forward, something like this is not going to happen again.”
In a statement posted on the SUNY website, Morris also wrote that additional resources would be put in place to monitor the activity in the dorms.
“It is deeply disappointing that following the severe action SUNY Oneonta took just days ago to shift to remote learning for all students,” Morris wrote, “we are still faced with the reckless and irresponsible behavior of a few that are damaging the reputation of our campus and our dedicated students who followed the safety rules every day and were looking forward to a great semester on campus.”
When the students in the photo are identified, she said, they could face judicial review and possible suspension.
“Just because residence halls are closed, it’s still the fall semester and students are still accountable for their behavior,” said Franklin Chambers, vice president/student development. “The student code of conduct is still applicable.”
Following 11 positive cases at Hartwick, including a cluster of four in the Smith dorm, classes have been moved to online only and the dining hall has switched to take-out, effectively putting the campus on lockdown.
“We observed students moving dining furniture to be with one and other,” she said. “We couldn’t find an effective way to socially distance, so we moved to take-out as a precaution.”
Additionally, all residents of Smith Hall are on “precautionary quarantine,” as per a recommendation from the Otsego County Department of Health.
This week, five students were put on academic leave – in addition to the three sent home last week –after they were found with guests in their rooms, and a ticket was issued to such guests for trespassing.
“It’s very clear our campus is closed,” she said. “These individuals were not eligible to be on our campus.”
Academic leave withdraws the student from classes for the semester.
“Safety officers are now asking students to show ID,” she said. “It’s not a very Hartwick thing to do, and never in my 12 years as president did I think this would happen, but too many have tried to defy our boundaries.”
She continued, “Our success depends on the good judgment of everyone in the community,” she said. “And we will take swift action against those who do not comply.”