As COVID-19 cases rise nationwide, Binghamton University has moved all learning online for the remainder of the semester, according to a B-Line announcement from BU President Harvey Stenger on Tuesday.
BU reached the 100 case threshold for a two-week period set out by New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday, Nov. 17. Stenger attributed the uptick in COVID-19 cases to increased testing on campus.
“This is not a surprise to us,” Stenger wrote in the announcement. “Not because we haven’t collectively been doing the right thing, but because we have been aggressively testing nearly every student on campus as we gear up for our fall departure. Over the last seven days, we have completed almost 5,000 tests, a new record for our Bearcat community. So, while we have crossed the 100 positive case threshold, it is also important to understand the broader context and recognize that your efforts this past semester have paid off.”
Stenger noted the COVID-19 positivity rate at BU is “manageable” at 1.61 percent, while the surrounding community has a 3.59 percent positivity rate. As of Nov. 18, there are 514 active cases in Broome County and 103 positive COVID-19 cases at BU.
In accordance with precedent set during the previous two-week pause, which occurred from Oct. 8 to Oct. 22, on-campus dining will be takeout only and all in-person extracurricular programs and other nonessential activities will be suspended. Additionally, Off Campus College Transport (OCCT) buses will be running on a reduced schedule during the weekdays while the weekend schedule will not change.
According to the B-Line announcement, residence halls will remain open until 2 p.m. on Nov. 25, when all on-campus students will be required to return home for winter break. Other operations will remain open, including the libraries, classrooms set aside for student study spaces and various medical services. Some activities have been permitted to continue in-person, such as clinical and internship experiences required for licensure and research labs, which will run on the same schedule as they did during October’s two-week pause.
Additionally, all in-person academic exams that were scheduled for Nov. 22 to Nov. 24 will be held online at the same date and time the exam was originally scheduled.
Kerry O’Neill, a senior majoring in computer science, said her professor opted to move the final exam for Health and Wellness Studies 234: Intermediate Taekwondo to the last in-person class that was held. While her exam went well, O’Neill said she wishes she had more notice.
“I think it would have been better if they had sent out a notice about moving classes online last week when we saw cases go up so that we all would have more time to prepare and adjust for our classes,” O’Neill said. “I think that we did go online at the appropriate time. I just think it would have made it a lot easier to receive updates on this decision ahead of time.”
Gavin VanHorn, a senior double-majoring in history and philosophy, politics and law, echoed O’Neill’s sentiments, stating he wished students were warned about the transition ahead of time.
“It seems like Stenger expected that this sort of thing would take place, so it probably would have been a better idea for [the shutdown] to happen earlier,” VanHorn wrote in an email. “That way, there would have been a lower chance that students catch COVID-19 and not be able to go home. Obviously, he had to weigh options, and I wasn’t there to see the perceived benefits of keeping in-person classes for the last few weeks of the semester.”
One student, an anonymous resident assistant (RA), said this move to remote learning demonstrates that BU has not performed sufficient testing throughout the semester. The anonymous RA said they think this was “a conscious decision” made by the BU administration.
“If [BU] had done this level of testing throughout the semester, we likely would have been shut down immediately, more people would have gone home and [BU] would have lost more money,” the anonymous RA said. “They clearly have the infrastructure to test more frequently and chose not to, and that was purposeful. While I’d rather be here than at home, to me it just shows that even though the college community has a lower rate of infection that the greater Binghamton area, and maybe are taking things more seriously now, [BU] was willing to put students and the community at risk for monetary reasons rather than just having a completely online semester.”
While plans for the spring semester have not yet been announced, Stenger emphasized the importance of limiting the spread of COVID-19.
“We ask that you remain on campus or in your current off-campus residences until the scheduled break and, most importantly, that you report for your scheduled [COVID-19] test prior to returning to your home communities,” Stenger wrote. “This is a requirement for all students in SUNY institutions. Our goal is to prevent infected students from transmitting COVID-19 to their home communities. I urge you to be considerate of your families and local communities.”