As COVID-19 cases rise across the country, Binghamton University is facing its worst COVID-19 case spike in a year.
On Dec. 16, BU reported a 14-day COVID-19 rolling average positivity rate of 8.45 percent for students, the highest number reported in 2021. Out of the 902 students tested on Thursday, 72 were positive. A higher number of positives was reported on Wednesday, with 114 out of 832 students tested returning positive results. Employee numbers are not facing the same spike, as the 14-day rolling average positivity rate is only 0.87 percent.
In a Dec. 15 B-Line News Addition, the University announced it was taking measures to alleviate the spike in cases, including reducing the density of classrooms for some in-person exams. Some students said they felt the University had not provided adequate alternatives to in-person exams should they test positive.
Wednesday’s reported cases occurred one week after Broome County Executive Jason Garnar announced the Omicron variant had been identified in Broome County. Richard Moose, the medical director for Decker Student Health Services Center, said the increase in cases may be attributed to student gatherings.
“Throughout this pandemic we have consistently seen spikes in cases after large groups of people get together,” Moose wrote in an email. “We began seeing this spike shortly after a large party in the community.”
As per the SUNY COVID-19 Case Tracker, student cases appeared to gradually increase at BU beginning Dec. 2, before increasing at a steeper rate from Dec. 6 to Dec. 8, with the most recent spike beginning Dec. 13.
According to Ryan Yarosh, senior director of media and public relations at BU, some students taking in-person final exams were distributed to multiple rooms, also at times utilizing the Events Center and West Gym. Some students including Danyal Shah, a junior majoring in biochemistry, reported a lack of accommodation from some professors.
“One of my friends got [COVID-19] — and we are in the same class together — so they weren’t able to take one of the tests that we had on Tuesday,” Shah said. “The professor told them that they had to take it on campus 10 days after [the day of the final]. So that’s a professor not being accommodating for the rise in cases.”
While Shah said most of his own in-person exams had not been affected, one of his exams — scheduled for Friday — had been switched to an online format by the professor amid the rise in cases.
Christopher Penny, a first-year MBA student, said the lack of alternate exam options presented him with a difficult choice.
“Multiple people I know have tested positive recently, as a result I reached out to a professor of mine to see if I would be able to take an alternate exam in the event that I tested positive,” Penny wrote in an email. “They told me I would have to take an incomplete for the semester which, frankly, is just not an option for me. So it’s frustrating.”
A Change.org petition calling for BU to move finals online was created on Tuesday, garnering 783 signatures as of Friday, Dec. 17. The petition cited Cornell University as an example, which transitioned to online finals amid rising cases and suspected cases of the Omicron variant, according to NBC News.
Harald Zils, an associate professor of German and Russian studies, said that there were limited alternatives to BU’s decision regarding all in-person finals.
“We have to accept what we have seen so many times in the past 23 months: No ‘Plan B’ or ‘Plan C’ can make everybody happy,” Zils wrote in an email. “Move all finals online? There is no online testing infrastructure on the market that cannot be easily cheated. Cancel all finals? I have students who rely on their grade from the final exam to help with their overall course grade. Shut down? Sending students home abruptly without giving them an opportunity for additional [COVID-19] testing endangers their families and their home communities. The University decided to stick as close as possible to ‘Plan A,’ trying to avoid disruptions as much as possible — to help the students.”
Other students, including Melanie Valentin, a sophomore majoring in sociology, said their finals did not experience many disruptions.
“I personally have not been majorly affected by the rise in cases, however professors were more cautious during finals and some could not even proctor,” Valentin wrote in an email. “For the last final I took, the proctor asked the class to divide itself between two rooms which probably had something to do with the spike. Either way, I was lucky to have finished finals earlier than most students and I just tried my best to stay as safe as possible in advance so I could go home immediately after.”
Yarosh said the University is formulating its plan for the beginning of next semester, and recommended students check B-Mail for updates. Yarosh shared some recommendations for students to help alleviate the situation.
“Get vaccinated, get a booster shot, keep your mask on whenever you’re in a large crowd of people,” Yarosh wrote in an email. “Transmission is not being traced back to classrooms, but events and gatherings.”
Though plans are still in development for next semester, Moose remains optimistic that the COVID-19 pandemic will eventually become manageable.
“I am hopeful that we will develop a way to live with the [COVID-19] virus in the future,” Moose wrote in an email. “Currently, the best hope for that is through vaccination and booster shots. Medications are also just coming out on the market that may help to prevent severe illness when taken early in the course of the infection.”