Union College staffer tests positive for coronavirus; Classes there suspended

Colleges continued to tighten restrictions on large gatherings as virus spreads

Colleges continued to tighten campus restrictions and move classes online Thursday as a staff member at Union College and a University at Albany student joined the ranks of people who have tested positive for novel coronavirus.

Union canceled classes Thursday and Friday and told students that next week’s end-of-term finals would be delivered remotely; students were asked to leave campus by Sunday at 5 p.m. Spring term will begin March 30, as scheduled, but all classes will be conducted remotely through at least April 10, college officials announced Thursday.

“We also ask that students take all of their belongings, as if they were leaving at the end of the academic year,” the college instructed students. “This will avoid challenges if conditions prevent us from resuming on-campus instruction during spring term.”

Skidmore College said it planned to go that far, announcing the college would move to remote learning for the entire spring semester after students finished their spring break, which officials this week extended by a week until March 23.

“While there are no known cases of (the virus) at Skidmore, given the continued and rapid spread of the disease to communities within the United States and around the world, and the need to mitigate the spread of the virus to our community, we are taking these extraordinary steps,” Skidmore President Philip Glotzbach wrote in a note to students.

Skidmore students must move out of campus housing by March 21, the college said, with some students being granted waivers to stay on campus for specific needs.

The dramatic steps come after a week of colleges and universities – both public and private – announcing plans to move classes online, extend spring breaks and indefinitely delay the return of students to campus. Every college in the Capital Region has instituted some kind of restrictions that have gone into effect or will over the coming days. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that all SUNY campuses would move to remote learning effective March 19.

At Union on Thursday, the college was working closely with the Schenectady County Health Department to assess the situation and plan next steps. The college implemented new social distancing measures to limit the potential spread of the virus, canceling all events and in-person meetings.

The Health Department had a list of all individuals believed to have been in contact with the affected staff member and those people would be contacted by health officials by noon on Friday, the college said.

“The college cares deeply about all members of our community and we ask for your empathy and courage as we partner with experts to protect the health of our community,” Union College President David Harris said in a message to the college.

Union and UAlbany students were greeted Thursday with the news of the confirmed COVID-19 cases on their campuses, and many began to pack suitcases as their smartphones buzzed with university email updates explaining how classes would be conducted online for the rest of the year.

“My mom was freaking out a little bit before, but I told her ‘Relax, I’ll be fine,’” said Abhishek George, a sophomore at Union.

Union students will have to clear out of the dorm rooms by Sunday, then take online finals for their second of three terms in their academic year.

At UAlbany, dorms and dining halls will remain open as usual, but students were encouraged to bring all their academic materials as they left for spring break.  

Online classes weren’t met with open arms by all students, especially those with in-person labs in majors like engineering.

“If we do online classes for next term and I don’t get at least some of my money back, there’s going to be some lawsuits flying in every direction at this school,” said Jake Walsh, a chemistry sophomore.

The small on-campus convenience store 518 Market at UAlbany was packed with students Thursday, and campus police sent several officers to support the extreme foot traffic according to officials.

George, an international student from Abu Dhabi, said he felt more comfortable staying in the United States over spring break than traveling and exposing himself to more potential risks.

“I was planning on going to Canada but I need to get a visa and it’s kind of not the best time,” George said.

He expects to be one of the only students staying in the dorms next week, since he believes international students will be allowed to stay. His options for activities will be limited. So what will he do with few other students around?

“I don’t know, exercise, run,” he said.

Categories: -News-, Schenectady County

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