Union College takes precautions amid late-season COVID surge

The Class of 2021 is assembled in front of the Nott Memorial during the 227th commencement at Union College at the Roger Hull Plaza on June 13, 2021.

The Class of 2021 is assembled in front of the Nott Memorial during the 227th commencement at Union College at the Roger Hull Plaza on June 13, 2021.

SCHENECTADY — Union College imposed a classroom mask mandate Sunday after dozens of students and employees tested positive for COVID.

The college said 89 positive tests were reported in the week ending Sunday, which is nearly 10% of all the positive tests so far in 2022. Eleven more tested positive on Monday.

Union, with its three-part trimester school year, is still in session after other Capital Region colleges have held their commencement ceremonies and sent their students home for the summer.

In a message to the Union College community Sunday, three vice presidents and the chief human resources officer warn that important year-end activities including final exams and the June 12 commencement are jeopardized if COVID cases continue to multiply.

“Additionally, the increase in student COVID-19 cases is overwhelming our ability to secure off-campus isolation space,” they wrote.

The timing is ironic. 

Robert Langer — a co-founder of Moderna who played a key role in the development of that company’s COVID-19 vaccine — is scheduled to deliver a talk Wednesday evening at Union’s Nott Memorial.

All Union students, faculty and non-educational staff are required to be vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19, unless they have a medical or religious exemption.

With Sunday’s announcement, they’ll have to wear masks in classrooms and labs. Also, all individuals are expected to mask up in other indoor settings, including meetings where social distancing can’t be maintained and in dining halls while waiting for food service.

A Union College spokesman said there is no one person, group, event or activity known to be at the root of the outbreak. Schenectady County and the Capital Region as a whole had been seeing a growing rate of new infections per capita for two months, although that began to taper off and subside in mid-May.

Switching to remote or hybrid instruction and learning as faculty and students become sick is disruptive but the college has the technology and procedures in place to do it as needed.

Final exams are scheduled June 6-12 at Union College.

Commencement is set for 10 a.m. Sunday, June 12 in the outdoor space between the Schaffer Library and Nott Memorial, with seating outdoors in open air, under two large tents, and in three indoor spaces where video links will be established. In the event of heavy rain, the ceremony will be moved into the Memorial Field House.

All campus visitors are expected to be fully vaccinated against COVID or to test negative no more than 72 hours before the ceremony.


Union College, with 2,150 full-time students, is among the smallest of the Capital Region colleges. From Jan. 1 to May 30, there were 944 known cases of COVID among Union College’s students and employees.

Here’s how other four-year colleges across the region stacked up on their self-reported COVID dashboards:

  • RPI: 1,240 students and employees tested positive from Jan. 17 to May 22 (spring semester) and 56 more from May 23 to May 30 (summer semester).
  • Russell Sage: Not available
  • Saint Rose: 250 total positives from Jan. 16 to May 29.
  • Siena: 285 total positives from Jan. 24 to May 11.
  • Skidmore: 1,041 total positives from Aug. 25, 2021, to May 30, 2022.
  • University at Albany: 1,368 total positives since Jan. 14.

Categories: News, Schenectady, Schenectady County

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