During visit to SUNY Oneonta, Chancellor Malatras talks mandatory weekly testing for SUNY students and faculty

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ONEONTA, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — On Sunday, State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras joined SUNY Oneonta Acting President Dennis Craig and local officials to reopen campus for the spring semester. After a COVID-19 outbreak in September, students at SUNY Oneonta were sent home for the semester.

On Sunday, students moved back to campus housing for pre-semester COVID testing and quarantining before the SUNY-required push back of the Spring Semester start date of in-person classes on February 1, Chancellor Malatras announced that all SUNY campuses will increase the frequency of SUNY’s mandatory COVID testing to weekly testing of all students, faculty, and staff who regularly come to campus. SUNY Oneonta is set to do so. Healthcare students who have volunteered to help with COVID response will be made available to campuses to help administer tests. To date, approximately 2,500 students have signed up to volunteer.

Chancellor Malatras also reaffirmed spring semester guidance, which was announced last November, and includes pre-testing of all students prior to the start of the semester, mandatory pre-semester quarantine of students, mandatory mask wearing at all times, even when socially distanced, no spring break, uniform compliance and enforcement standards, expanded mental health and wellness services, and a student’s bill of rights for greater transparency. Since the 2020-2021 academic year began in August, SUNY has conducted 723,891 tests with a 0.57 positive percentage rate. Preliminary data suggests in-person instruction has not been a vector of the spread.

Sunday’s visit with campus and local leaders, students, and faculty is his first in 2021 as he resumes regional campus visits for the spring semester.

“As our campuses are beginning their spring semesters, we are both excited for our students, and also aware of the challenges that still lie ahead because of COVID,” said Chancellor Malatras. “That is why we have developed comprehensive reopening plans to put the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff first. And, it is the reason we have already increased the frequency of testing on our campuses, and why we will continue to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances, like new strains and higher levels of cases.”

“It’s good to be back at SUNY Oneonta as they begin their spring semester. After the difficulties in the fall semester, the Oneonta community, under the leadership of Acting President Craig, worked tirelessly to get to the point of reopening their campus today. With the vaccine, increased testing, uniform comprehensive reopening policy and the dedication of our students, faculty, and staff at Oneonta and across the system, I’m looking forward to a successful semester.” Chancellor Malatras added.

SUNY Oneonta Acting President Craig said, “Our campus has come together over the past several months to prepare for this moment. We are excited to welcome students back to campus and ready to continue working hard to keep our community safe. What this means for all of us is that we need to remain vigilant by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and avoiding large gatherings. These simple precautions will go a long way towards making this semester a success. We all must be able to count on one another to be responsible.”

Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig said, “In order to keep COVID-19 at bay and keep one another safe we know that we need to work together as a team—COVID-19 fatigue is something we may all be dealing with, but it’s on us to hold one another accountable. My thanks to Chancellor Malatras for his ongoing support. I appreciate Acting President Craig’s partnership as the plan was put together to ensure the safety of students, faculty, and staff at SUNY Oneonta, and by extension being mindful of the health and wellness of members in the surrounding community. We look forward to continuing our work with campus leadership and supporting them however possible to keep up the morale in the fight against COVID-19.”

SUNY Oneonta’s Spring Reopening Plan

Together with students, staff, faculty, public health experts, community leaders elected officials, including the Mayor of Oneonta, SUNY Oneonta developed its Spring 2021 Academic Continuity & Health and Safety Plan. The plan is designed to act as a living document, allowing SUNY Oneonta to remain nimble and adapt to the realities of the pandemic.

The reopening plan prioritizes the safety of the entire SUNY Oneonta community, and adopts several new initiatives, including:

  • A low-density residential model that limits the number of students residing on campus to approximately 650 in single-occupancy rooms spread throughout several residence halls (full capacity is 3,500); and 1,500 students registered for in-person classes; the maximum number of students on campus for classes, work, or college services is expected to be about 2,700, down from about 6,500;
  • Pre-screening requirements for all students living on campus, taking in-person classes, or using campus facilities, including: daily health screenings, a 7-day precautionary quarantine, affirmation of a Statement of Shared Responsibility, completion of an online COVID prevention training, and submission of either a negative COVID-19 test or documentation of a positive test within the past 90 days, prior to moving in or starting in-person classes;
  • Mandatory weekly testing for 100 percent of on-campus students and students enrolled for in-person classes;
  • Conducting random surveillance testing for off-campus students by 10 percent increments each week;
  • The creation of a Vice President for External Affairs to ensure open communications between the campus, city and town officials, and other community constituents;
  • Establishing a Parents of Off-Campus Student Ambassador program to build community among off campus students and their parents.

Also, as part of SUNY’s spring guidance, campuses are sharing a “What Students Should Know” plain language informational notice, or bill of rights, so all students know what to expect at individual campuses, such as how many courses will be online, hybrid, or in person. SUNY Oneonta’s notice can be found here.

SUNY will revisit the 100 percent weekly testing requirement depending on the positivity rate in the state and regions throughout the course of the semester.

Data Transparency

SUNY Oneonta’s COVID-19 Operational Team will track on-campus cases, consider staffing needs related to COVID-19, and assess external factors such as regional infection trends, the availability of healthcare resources, and the rollout of a system to immunize people against the virus.

All SUNY campuses will continue to report positive cases daily via SUNY’s COVID-19 Case Tracker. The database tallies tests and active cases by campus and provides trends and positivity rates in rolling three-, seven-, and 14-day intervals, allowing people to understand the trajectory of the virus at any given time. SUNY will be announcing additional upgrades to the COVID Tracker in the upcoming days.

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