Students at SUNY colleges across the state must test negative for COVID-19 within 10 days before leaving campus for Thanksgiving break, under a new system-wide policy, officials said Tuesday.
Colleges around the Capital Region plan to keep up surveillance testing and other precautions until students leave for the late-November break, after which in-person learning will be on hold for most students until new semester begins after Jan. 1. Colleges set schedules to conclude the fall semester remotely after the holiday break to limit travel to and from campuses.
By testing around 140,000 students across 64 campuses, the SUNY system is aimed at mitigating spread of the infection as students return home for what is slated for most to be an extended period of remote learning through the end of the semester.
“By requiring all students to test negative before leaving, we are implementing a smart, sensible policy that protects students’ families and hometown communities and drastically reduces the chances of COVID-19 community spread,” SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras said in a Tuesday morning media release outlining the new policy.
All students taking at least one class on a SUNY campus or utilizing any on-campus services must test negative within the 10-day window before campuses close ahead of Thanksgiving. Colleges must submit plans by Nov. 5 to accomplish the new testing mandate, aiming to schedule tests as close to a student’s departure as possible.
Campuses should also continue existing testing programs, like the pooled surveillance testing at University at Albany, under the new policy. Campuses are also encouraged to “reinforce to students that they should limit contact, wear masks, and practice social distancing” between taking a test and leaving campus.
Students who test positive will need to quarantine or isolate with the support of their college and at the direction of a local health department.
Local SUNY schools plan to close campuses for the Thanksgiving break next month, transitioning students to remote learning for the final weeks and final exams of the fall semester. At UAlbany, for example, on-campus instruction concludes Nov. 24 and final exams are scheduled to be held remotely from Nov. 30 to Dec. 7.
While UAlbany and other four-year campuses have conducted far more extensive testing this school year, SUNY Schenectady has completed over 800 pooled tests, returning no positive results, according to the SUNY COVID-19 tracker. Four people associated with the college, though, have been identified as positive cases through other means, according to the tracker.
SUNY Cobleskill has conducted over 3,800 tests of students and staff, primarily through pooled testing, and have returned one positive result; a total of eight students and staff have been identified as positive cases this semester, according to the tracker. UAlbany administered over 15,000 tests so far this semester, returning 83 positive cases; another 100 students and staff members tested positive outside of the school system.
Private colleges in the region on Tuesday indicated they plan to continue current testing protocols of students and staff, which tests students weekly, until students have left campus. Skidmore is slated to conclude in-person instruction Nov. 20, while fall term exams at Union College end Nov. 24 and dorms close to students Nov. 25.
Both private colleges have also rearranged spring calendars, limiting, or all together eliminating, traditional spring break plans. Union College shortened its planned spring break to four days, including a weekend, and “strongly encourage(d)” students to stay on campus during the break. Students who leave for personal travel and must quarantine on the return under the state’s travel restrictions will have to find their own quarantine accommodations, the college has warned students. Union plans to give students two “mid-week wellness days” off during the spring term.
Skidmore College replaced its traditional spring break with one break day on March 16 – a Tuesday.