Harry Karpen/Photo Editor The rolling seven-day positivity rate at BU is 1.74 percent, with 158 students currently isolating due to COVID-19, as of April 24.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has designated Broome County as having a high level of community risk for COVID-19 transmission.

As of April 24, the seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate for Broome County was 12.4 percent, with the New York state seven-day average at 6.90 percent, according to the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH). At Binghamton University, cases have risen since the beginning of April, with the rolling seven-day positivity rate at 1.74 percent as of April 24, with 158 students currently isolating due to COVID-19, according to the SUNY COVID-19 Case Tracker.

The increase in positivity rates comes two months after the mask mandate was lifted in New York state and one month after the mask mandate was lifted at BU. The mask mandate remains in place at the University Counseling Center, the Decker Student Health Services Center, the Surveillance Testing Center and on Broome County and Off Campus College Transport (OCCT) buses.

According to Chelsea Reome-Nedlik, ‘13, MPA ‘16, a public health educator with the Broome County Health Department, the increase in cases is due to a multitude of factors, not just the lifting of the mask mandate.

“One [factor] may be the spread of the Omicron variant BA.2 which has been detected throughout New York state,” Reome-Nedlik wrote in an email. “Other possible factors include travel as spring weather breaks, discontinuation of masking mandates and stagnant vaccination rates.”

Reome-Nedlik said it is important to note that positivity rates are not the most reliable metric of the severity of COVID-19 transmission in an area.

“Starting at the beginning of the pandemic, all positive and negative COVID-19 test results in New York state were required by law to be reported to [the NYSDOH],” Reome-Nedlik wrote. “However, on [April 4] reporting requirements for laboratories changed. All positive COVID-19 tests must still be reported to NYSDOH, but not all negatives do. As a result, positivity rates no longer include all tests administered and are no longer as reliable as they once were.”

The lifting of the mask mandate at BU was contingent upon the positivity rate in Broome County remaining in the low or medium CDC transmission level, according to a March 2 B-Line. However, the University does not have plans to reinstate the mask mandate, according to a recent Dateline announcement.

“We do not currently have plans to reinstitute a mask mandate, but the campus is reminded that precautions should still be taken,” the Dateline read. “Get vaccinated if you are not, mask if you wish, avoid crowds and social distance when possible, wash your hands frequently and get tested when you become symptomatic. Also, please respect others who request you to wear a mask in their presence.”

On April 18, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) lifted its mask mandate. The mask mandate still remains in effect on OCCT and other buses in the state, due to a court order issued by New York state, according to Jake Abrams, ‘21, the public relations coordinator for OCCT and a first-year MBA student.

“As a result [of the court order], masks are still required on all OCC Transport buses, shuttles and other entities,” Abrams wrote in an email. “While we understand any potential confusion regarding the ever-evolving mandates, we remind passengers that mask noncompliance will continue to go untolerated and result in removal from the bus.”

Some students fear that COVID-19 restrictions will be reinstated due to the recent case spike, such as Brett Powell, an undeclared freshman.

“Other than the general fear of catching and spreading COVID-19, the recent rise in cases has made me nervous about the return of strict regulation on campus, and the possibility of another shutdown on public as a whole,” Powell wrote. “Regarding my personal decisions, I still take [COVID-19] tests if I’m feeling ill or even just have a cough for more than two or three days to prevent its spread, and comply with the bus regulations and any teacher’s request to wear masks.”

For others, who are immunocompromised or have immunocompromised loved ones, including Taylor Allen, an undeclared freshman, the recent spike is more of a concern.

“The rising cases on campus make me more nervous and conscientious for others rather than myself,” Allen wrote. “I attempt to wear my mask in crowded areas or in any required setting. I hope to keep others who may be immunocompromised or who have to protect themselves and loved ones from [COVID-19] safe. I appreciate the surveillance testing that the school has instituted as another measure to monitor asymptomatic cases. As the semester is nearing the end, I hope that the rising cases do not prohibit anyone from finishing their semester off strong or returning home for the summer.”

According to Reome-Nedlik, there are a number of resources available to those who test positive for COVID-19 in Broome County, which are all listed on the Broome County Health Department’s website.

“If you’ve tested positive, you can use this online survey to share details about your illness to get personalized paperwork for work or school,” Reome-Nedlik wrote. “If you haven’t tested positive for [COVID-19], it can help you answer questions about what you should do if you have symptoms or if you’ve been exposed. If you test positive and need emergency assistance with food, call 211. If you are looking for mental health resources, visit the New York Project Hope website. Free at-home test kits are available at the Broome County Health Department’s front desk. If you have tested positive, please stay home. But if you have contacts who may have been exposed to you, they are welcome to take what they need.”

BU did not respond to a request for comment.