Chancellor Hurries To Campus;
Classes Cancelled For 2 Weeks
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
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.
“It’s a wake-up call for everyone,” said Malatras, who was just appointed to the job Thursday.
Asked why SUNY Oneonta was worst hit, Malatras blamed it on “several large parties” in the city the first weekend. Several asymptomatic students attended, he said, and it spread to other students from there.
In the days after, he said, a lack of social distancing and mask wearing allowed the infections to quickly multiply.
Of the 105 students, 71 tested positive in the past week.
The school conducted 21 saliva “pool samples” of 20 students each; of those, 19 of the pools contained COVID infections, requiring each student in the pool to be tested individually. In the end, 34 of the students in those tests were positive.
President Morris said buses from the campuses to downtown, a point of dispute with Herzig, have been cancelled. After the city cancelled evening OPT bus runs from the campus to downtown, the Student Association contracted with Hale Buses, Bainbridge, to keep the buses running.
Students are now confined to campus for two weeks.
Malatras said Morris has now adopted a no-tolerance policy. She said she has suspended five students temporarily and three organizations for the academic year.
Citing the school’s mission statement, she said, “We are a nurturing community. Our ethics of care will get us through this.”
Mayor Herzig then spoke, praising Malatras and Morris for their collaboration with City Hall.
Asked about off-campus students, Malatras pointed out that it is a “two-way street.” Whereas city residents depend on the students to be responsible, the campus community similarly depends on the hundreds of people off-campus who work on campus.
“We have to band together as a community,” he said.
Malatras, Morris and Herzig addressed the press conference on the quad in front of the Chase Gymnasium, where a constant queue of students filed in to get tested for COVID.
The final question – why hadn’t students been tested before they arrived on campus? – was asked by Chris Frommeyer, a senior Criminal Justice major from Long Island.
Morris pointed out that students had been asked to isolate for seven days before coming to school, or 14 days if coming from a state on the “hot spot” list. She also said state-of-the-art surveillance was in place, including wastewater testing and the saliva pool surveillance.