Union requires booster for winter term, will go remote first week

The Nott Memorial is seen on Aug. 30, 2020, on the Union College campus.
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The Nott Memorial is seen on Aug. 30, 2020, on the Union College campus.

SCHENECTADY — Union College students will need to keep up on their COVID vaccinations, including a booster shot, to remain in classes for the winter term.

All students are required to have their initial dose(s), and must get the extra jab within two weeks of becoming eligible — six months for Pfizer and Moderna and two for J&J.  Union has set a deadline of Jan. 16 — the beginning of the third week of classes — to be up to date.

In an email sent to the campus community Tuesday, students and employees were informed that additional protocols were being put in place as the college prepared for its return to session amid the spread of the omicron variant.

“Conditions have changed rapidly over recent days and they’ll likely continue to change over the coming days,” Union President David Harris said in a video message to students Tuesday. “The omicron variant has proven to be much more transmissible than previous COVID variants, both for those who are vaccinated and those who are not.”

Spokesman Phil Wajda told the Daily Gazette on Thursday that the term’s first week of courses from Jan. 3-7 will be online. All who received the campus-wide email were told the extra time at home would allow for students and staff to get tested — PCR preferred but rapid is OK — within 72 hours of their return after the holidays, along with a greater window to get their needed vaccinations.

Residence halls will reopen for students on Sunday, Jan. 9 and, once classes start the next morning, all will be in-person. However, everyone will be required to get tested twice on campus during this first week on campus. Students must use the on-campus testing center at Old Chapel/Hale House.

The college already requires students who want to attend class in-person to be vaccinated, and faculty must be as well.

The move to having classes virtual the first week also allows anyone who has tested positive for COVID to quarantine at home rather than spending 10 days in a hotel or having to return home after just arriving on campus, Harris said in Tuesday’s video.

Harris said given current data, the spike of positive cases being seen now will likely accelerate.

There were no reported positive cases at the campus as of Tuesday. However, five faculty or staff members were in isolation, according to the college’s COVID dashboard. Since August, 75 people at the college have tested positive, including 38 faculty or staff and 37 students. As of Tuesday, over 23,000 tests have been administered.

Harris also made several calls-to-action, including getting tested before returning and receiving the booster shot. He said it seems likely the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will change the meaning of fully vaccinated to include having received the booster shot. In addition, Harris called on students to begin to limit interactions with people a week before returning to campus, in order to re-establish the college’s bubble, and once back on campus, to comply with all masking and testing requirements.

“We want to do our part to minimize the spread in the Schenectady area, especially for those with health conditions that put them at significant risk,” Harris said.

SKIDMORE, TOO

Students and faculty at Skidmore College must also have their booster shot for the spring semester, according to an announcement from college officials on Dec. 10.

As of Wednesday, while there were no new positive cases at Skidmore, five students and two employees were in isolation, according to Skidmore’s COVID dashboard. There have been 155 total positive cases at the college since Aug. 25 and almost 39,000 cumulative tests administered.

SUNY APPROACH

Neither the University of Albany nor SUNY Schenectady are requiring booster shots to attend classes in person at the moment. That decision would likely be SUNY-wide, said Jordan Carleo-Evangelist, UAlbany’s interim director of communications.

Carleo-Evangelist said the college strongly encourages people to get the booster shot. Students, except those who are fully remote, who are eligible to get the booster shot but have not, will be required to partake in surveillance testing to remain enrolled at the university, according to an email sent to students Thursday. That protocol includes students who have medical or religious exemptions.

Students will also be required to provide proof of a negative COVID test no more than five days prior to returning to campus. Antibody tests will not be accepted.

SUNY Schenectady County Community College is requiring students to be vaccinated this spring and highly encouraging they get the booster as well.

“Students should be vaccinated for the spring semester, but if they are not, the college offers online learning options,” said college President Steady Moono.

SUNY said it remains in contact with all 64 campuses across the state and is reviewing protocols for the spring.

“We are working with all campuses to ensure a robust booster education and awareness plan to encourage boosters for those eligible under federal guidance, as well as ensuring adequate testing capacity for all students, faculty and staff,” SUNY press secretary Holly Liapis said.

The State University of New York’s online COVID Tracker indicates an estimated 1,645 positive results systemwide from tests administered on-campuses in the last 14 days.

This includes several campuses in and near the Capital Region:

  • Adirondack: 9
  • Albany: 38
  • Cobleskill: 20
  • Fulton-Montgomery: 0
  • Hudson Valley: 1
  • Schenectady County: 0

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