SCHENECTADY — Union College is battling a COVID outbreak that has infected dozens of students in recent days.
As of Thursday, 76 students and one employee were in isolation and 98 students were quarantined, the college reported.
Schenectady County Public Health Services said Friday the cluster has resulted primarily from social activity and sports events, and it is working closely with the college to address the situation.
Union College’s online COVID dashboard indicates another spike in positive tests in January, when the surrounding community was battling a major surge in COVID infections.
After a lull in February and early March, this latest spike has occurred almost entirely in the past week or so, with 22 new infections confirmed on Wednesday alone.
The college began an abbreviated spring break Thursday; classes resume Monday.
The college has been testing for COVID vigorously all along — 35,524 tests since Jan. 1 — and ran a combined 1,834 tests on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week.
In a video message to the college community Thursday, Union President David Harris explained the gravity of the situation, and said hard work would be needed for the college to continue operation in-person without restrictions.
“In the last four days we’ve had more than 50 students test positive for COVID-19,” he said. “That’s more student positives in a four-day period than we’ve seen in the entire academic year. What that tells me is we have to redouble our efforts.”
He boiled it down to three strategies: Avoid being indoors with others; re-establish the Union College bubble by avoiding contact with the non-Union community and identifying those infected on campus; and increase health and safety protocols.
Union College is directing that students:
- Not go to bars, restaurants or gyms off campus;
- Avoid all indoor gatherings other than classes;
- Not host non-Union guests, including parents, in their residence;
- Have interactions outdoors instead of indoors;
- Be tested twice during the first week of classes in the spring term if attending classes on-campus — those who don’t will be converted to remote status;
- Dining will be grab-and-go only — indoor seating will be removed.
- In-person classes will resume as planned Monday, as there is no evidence of spread in classrooms.
- The Schaffer Library and indoor study spaces will be open, but masks and distancing are required.
“Just as we saw in January, a little bit of sacrifice is going to get us a big return,” Harris said, noting that the school continued in-person learning through the first two terms of the three-part academic year.
Union had 2,012 students enrolled during the winter term, 1,748 of them in-person and 264 remote; 1,488 of the in-person students live on campus and 260 live off-campus.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo raised the issue of vaccine equity once again, reminding the state that white New Yorkers are getting vaccinated against COVID at a higher rate than Black and Hispanic New Yorkers.
Minority communities have suffered a disproportionately high number of COVID deaths, he said, and should now have priority for receiving the vaccine.
Cuomo announced the state will provide doses of vaccine to SOMOS Community Care to administer in its medical practices, which are predominantly in New York City’s low-income communities. SOMOS has a goal of 1 million vaccinations.
He did not indicate how many doses were involved, but implied that the move was dependent on the promised radical increase in supply from the federal government. He said the partnership would start “in the coming weeks” and scale up “as supply allows.”
Cuomo also noted that the lagging vaccination rate for New Yorkers of color is due not just to limited access to vaccine but unwillingness to receive it. He urged members of these underserved communities to avail themselves of this new option, adding: “God helps those who help themselves. God doesn’t say ‘You sit there and I will pick you up and raise you up.’”
As of Friday morning, 15.2% of New Yorkers were completely vaccinated and 28.2% were at least partly vaccinated.
In other COVID news Friday:
- U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said $400 million would be coming to 63 community health centers across New York state, including $3.26 million for Hometown Health in Schenectady, $3.46 million for Whitney Young in Albany and $12.73 million for Hudson Headwaters in Queensbury. The money is part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan and is to be used for COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccination.
- Cuomo announced the launch of Excelsior Pass, a free digital platform that allows New Yorkers to show negative test results or proof of vaccination to gain admission to events or venues with entrance restrictions. Information for individuals and businesses online at the state’s COVID-19 website.
- With another Girl Scout Cookie season clouded by the pandemic, making traditional face-to-face sales difficult, Price Chopper/Market 32 and Girl Scouts of Northeastern New York are partnering again to put the boxes of treats on supermarket shelves. The Girl Scouts will hold some flavors back for exclusive sale on their digital channels.