On Oct. 7, Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger announced all Binghamton University classes would move online for two weeks in response to rising COVID-19 cases. Two weeks later, the University has announced its plans to resume in-person instruction.
The decision was made in a B-Line News Addition on Oct. 21, announcing that the University will resume in-person classes on Thursday, Oct. 22. At an Oct. 21 press conference, Stenger was joined by SUNY Chancellor James Malatras and Broome County Executive Jason Garnar to discuss the current status of the precautionary pause of in-person classes on campus. Stenger informed students that the number of positive cases has dropped within the past two weeks, with a seven-day rolling average of 0.54 percent infection rate.
“I want to thank members of our campus community — students, staff and faculty — on successfully navigating the past two weeks of remote learning and taking steps that have allowed us to significantly reduce the infection rate,” Stenger said. “This is a significant milestone, but we must remain vigilant and follow our health and safety protocols.”
As of Oct. 21, the number of active cases in Broome County has reached up to 614 with 88 total deaths. The county also has a current infection rate of 3.5 percent. According to the BU COVID-19 Dashboard, cumulative data from Oct. 10 through Oct. 23 shows that as of Oct. 20, BU is at 34 cases from students, faculty and staff from all testing sources, including campus-tested and self-reported accounts.
New York State (NYS) Gov. Andrew Cuomo implemented the Micro-Cluster Initiative to minimize the spread of the virus by detecting small outbreaks and taking swift action to address it. After 14 days, additional considerations will be made to review and adjust the “cluster-zone” updates. As of Oct. 21, Broome County remains in the “yellow zone.” If the county is able to attain an infection rate below 1.5 percent after 10 days, the area can exit the “yellow zone.”
Garnar commended BU on transitioning from a 4.5 percent infection rate to under a 1 percent infection rate and remained hopeful that Broome County can do the same.
“This is a great day, it is a great example to show that if you are proactive, and you do the right thing, you can flatten the curve,” Garnar said. “[BU] really stepped up, and we have asked Broome County residents ever since we saw an uptick in cases to do their part and stay home as much as possible. It is a great example of what needs to be done and really what we all need to do in Broome County. If we can all take this type of approach with social distancing, wearing masks and staying home as much as possible, we can do this too, and we could be at or under one percent in just a couple of weeks.”
The transition back to in-person instruction and campus activities will remain similar to previous protocols. The University will continue to implement surveillance testing, provide diagnostic tests to those who present symptoms and monitor and sanction inappropriate campus activity to ensure the following of proper public health protocols.
Jack Stanisci, a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law, said he has been consistently working on campus but has yet to be tested.
“I would like for them to start testing students who work for the school on a regular basis,” Stanisci said. “I myself am a club sports/intramural supervisor, and I have not been asked by the school to be tested once. To ensure the safety of the students, I think that it is necessary for them to be more on top of testing student employees of the school even if they are marked as remote students.”
During the height of the increase in cases on Oct. 5, BU reached a rolling average of 4.78 percent infection rate. On the first day of the pause, Oct. 8, the average was 4.27 percent and decreased to 0.54 percent as of Oct. 21. Testing will continue to be ramped up after the return to in-person classes, as the University has been trying to test more students per week. Students are also encouraged to reference the “Rights and Responsibilities” document for any questions on the public health guidelines they are expected to follow during and after pauses.
During the press conference, Malatras addressed the possibility of reentering a two-week pause if cases begin to spike again.
“I think we are confident that we will not get there again,” Malatras said. “We understand how disruptive this is, the entire situation with [COVID-19] is disruptive, so we are making the best of a really difficult situation. The students in many ways bear the brunt of that. If it does get to that point, I’m sure it will be done in the same thoughtful manner that the University always deals with this, but I’m hopeful, too, we won’t get to that point.”
Stanisci also expressed concern over the fast-paced transition that students are facing with all the new changes in class structures in short periods of time.
“Students structure their lives around leaving their bubbles for class, whether it be from dorms or [Downtown Binghamton], and many students stick to their schedules,” Stanisci said. “When classes switched from in person to online and then back again, I think it is important for the school to recognize that it takes time for people to adjust, and professors need to be as flexible as the students are. This pandemic has really tested everyone’s ability to adapt to these conditions, but I believe we have all done a great job.”
Miangaly Razafindrakoto, a junior double-majoring in economics and music, had trouble adjusting to the transition and said she is doubtful the chaos of this semester will end after this period.
“As a music major, I still was able to go on campus to use the practice rooms and open studios, since they were allowed to be kept open, which all in all felt a bit pointless,” Razafindrakoto said. “The thing I thought was a bit strange was the change in the bus schedule to only weekend times, which was fairly inconvenient but still manageable. Overall, I’m not a fan of the back and forth between in-person and fully online [classes] because of the constant shifts in coursework. I understand how it can be beneficial for the number of cases Broome County faces, and I would enjoy the campus being open, but I feel like some procedures come off as more hectic than beneficial.”
Stenger encouraged students to continue being cautious to ensure the campus community does not have to enter another pause.
“Students have to recognize that this is not the time to go to a restaurant, and this is not the time to go shopping in the mall,” Stenger said. “This is the time to stay home, eat inside your residence halls, the dining halls and your apartments and not travel outside right now, especially for the next two weeks.”