In a few weeks, students preparing to pack up, head home and spend time with family for the upcoming holidays will have to add an extra bullet on their to-do lists before leaving campus.
On Tuesday, Oct. 27, SUNY Chancellor James Malatras announced a system-wide policy requiring students who use on-campus facilities to test negative for COVID-19 prior to leaving for Thanksgiving break.
The SUNY system includes 64 campuses across New York with about 140,000 students. Each campus will be required to create a definitive action plan by Nov. 5 on how they will test students within 10 days before the beginning of their respective Thanksgiving breaks. A majority of campuses will transition to remote learning after Thanksgiving and residence halls will be closed.
All students who take classes on campus, work on campus or utilize campus services, such as the gym or dining hall, will be required to test negative for COVID-19 10 days prior to returning home. Antibody tests will not be accounted for. Those who test positive will be required to isolate in their respective living space or quarantine in residence halls in the last 14 days before break. As per Malatras’ recommendation, faculty and staff will be tested as well.
The announcement comes directly after Binghamton University resumed in-person classes on Oct. 22 following the two-week pause in response to rising COVID-19 cases. Malatras emphasized the importance of preventing the spread of the virus to the various communities that students will be returning home to.
“By requiring all students to test negative before leaving, we are implementing a smart, sensible policy that protects students’ families and hometown communities and drastically reduces the chances of COVID-19 community spread,” Malatras said. “While we understand there is a lot of focus on plans for the spring semester, we must first finish this semester safely.”
Bridget Flynn, a sophomore majoring in business administration, stressed the importance of making sure that students are keeping their families safe by getting tested.
“The new policy from [Malatras] is important to containing the spread of the virus,” Flynn said. “Many of us are returning home to loved ones that we don’t want to infect. I can come home with peace of mind if I am negative.”
According to the SUNY COVID-19 Dashboard, SUNY estimated that there would be 3,150 positive cases for the fall semester. Between 61 campuses, over 280,000 campus tests have been administered with around 1,400 positive cases. Cumulative data from Oct. 24 through Nov. 6 shows that, as of Oct. 28, there is an estimated value of 128 cases from students, faculty and staff.
Some students are feeling the University will be overwhelmed in tracking down all students who live on campus before the break, including a resident assistant (RA) who wished to remain anonymous.
“If [BU] can pull it off then hats off to them,” the RA said. “But this is going to require the full cooperation of everyone, and with people having full [cabin] fever and cooped up in their own dorms for so long, desperate to get away and throwing finals season and Thanksgiving on top of that, I think it’s going to be one very impressive maneuver to pull off. I have faith in them, but they have to consider a lot of things.”
Although BU has yet to release a plan, SUNY has recommended that universities make efforts to track the departure dates of students to ensure they are tested. In addition, it has been recommended that campuses allow students to leave campus directly after receiving negative results.
All students will be notified in a similar manner to surveillance testing. Those who fail to respond to testing notices in a timely manner will face the consequences outlined in the “Rights and Responsibilities” document all students were obligated to sign at the beginning of the fall semester. Ryan Yarosh, senior director of media and public relations at BU, said the University is fully capable of handling the increase in testing.
“[BU] has been consistently expanding our testing capacity all semester, and we plan to schedule those students who are not exempt from the policy’s requirements for testing using our existing process, which has been reviewed favorably by the county health department,” Yarosh wrote in an email.
According to Yarosh, those with special circumstances, such as Binghamton Advantage Program (BAP) students, will be provided additional instructions that will allow them to fulfill all of their academic requirements as planned.
Malatras had previously suggested that all SUNY campuses would require students to get tested before returning back to campus for the spring semester, but these plans have yet to be confirmed. Instead, the system has shifted its focus to completing the fall semester smoothly before finalizing future policies.
“I want to thank our students for the phenomenal effort during these difficult times as well as SUNY health policy experts for helping us create this guidance that ensures a safe wind down of the fall semester,” Malatras said.