UAlbany student infection rate grows but campus not near shutdown trigger

SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras last month at UAlbany. Photo by Peter Barber/Staff Photographer
SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras last month at UAlbany. Photo by Peter Barber/Staff Photographer

Categories: -The Daily Gazette, News, Schenectady County

ALBANY — The University at Albany continues to lead the Capital Region in students testing positive for COVID-19, but is nowhere near the level that would send the campus to a semi-lockdown with virtual learning.

UAlbany had 56 positives as of its last update, Sunday afternoon.

Totals of all types of positives at other area colleges over the past month include: RPI, two; Siena College, two; Skidmore College, three; SUNY-Cobleskill, three; SUNY-Schenectady County, three; and Union College, six.

If more than 100 students and teachers or more than 5 percent of the campus community test positive (whichever is less) the college must go to remote learning for 14 days under a state directive.

However, the numbers are tallied in two-week blocks. The running total resets to zero at the start of each block.

From Aug. 28 through Sept. 11, only 40 University at Albany students tested positive. Since Sept. 11, only 16 students tested positive. Neither figure, alone or combined, is enough to trigger a shutdown.

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A similar situation exists at SUNY-Oswego, which was up to cumulative 148 cases as of Sunday afternoon, but hasn’t hit 100 in a single 14-day reporting period.

SUNY-Oneonta, by contrast, had 723 confirmed cases at last count. SUNY officials first ended in-person classes, then shut down the campus entirely.

Comparing the COVID status of one college campus to another is difficult because the colleges themselves are different, with greater or lesser numbers of students living in close quarters in dorms, and because colleges’ reporting techniques or terminology may vary significantly.

The State University of New York system administration, meanwhile, has gone live with a dashboard that shows the situation on all 64 SUNY campuses. But it is grossly inaccurate, or else else uses very different metrics than individual campuses use.

SUNY-Cobleskill, for example, says it has had a total of three positives; the SUNY headquarters dashboard says that college has had zero.

UAlbany says it has had 56 positives; SUNY headquarters says it has had 16.

SUNY-Oneonta says it has had 723 positives; SUNY headquarters says it has had 27.

TESTING AND TRACING

Since March 1, more than 120,000 people in Albany County have been tested for COVID-19, more than 10,000 quarantined, more than 2,700 confirmed infected and more than 130 died, the highest numbers for each metric of any county in the Capital Region.

The Albany County Department of Health has been juggling the testing, contact tracing, and isolating of these people all along, but says the sudden uptick in infected college students presents a few new challenges:

  • They often don’t answer the phone when a county health worker calls to attempt to track down people they’ve potentially infected.
  • They may look at contact tracing as ratting out their friends.
  • They may be reluctant to talk openly because of the consequences of breaking college or parental rules, or of underage drinking.
  • They may be so busy as to be unable to recall all the people they’ve come in contact with.

SUNY headquarters has been working to get students on board with the program.

A number of campuses across the system have already taken stern measures against students ignoring safety guidelines, from student suspensions to cancellation of athletics or Greek Life to shutdown of in-person dining.

On Monday, it launched its “Mask Up or Pack Up” campaign, inviting students to submit video messages urging their classmates to behave responsibly to keep SUNY campuses safe and open.

“‘Mask Up or Pack Up’ gives our students a platform to send powerful, persuasive messages to their classmates that encourage them to rise to the challenge and comply with proven COVID-19 safety measures,” SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras said in a news release. “Over a few short weeks, I’ve met with hundreds of students across more than a dozen campuses, all of whom are acting responsibly so they can stay on campus and learn. This campaign will harness their talent, creativity, and frustration with the small fraction of students who jeopardize entire college communities. We need universal compliance and uncompromising vigilance from everyone to keep campuses open — and we are proud of students who are determined to speak directly to their peers to help amplify that message.”

GAZETTE COVID-19 COVERAGE

The Daily Gazette is committed to keeping our community safe and informed and is offering our COVID-19 coverage to you free.
Our subscribers help us bring this information to you. Please consider a subscription at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe to help support these efforts. Already a subscriber? Thank you!

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