College students from across the country will be returning to the Capital Region in the coming weeks, including many who will be required to quarantine in a hotel or dorm room for two full weeks.
Colleges are making preparations to welcome the students and provide them food while they isolate, under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s travel restrictions.
At Siena College, international students or students coming from any of nearly three dozen states with high COVID-19 infection rates will begin their on-campus quarantines as soon as Monday.
Siena spokesperson Lisa Witkowski estimated about 125 students will be quarantining before the start of the school year. The students will be assigned to a single residence hall, where they will all have rooms with private bathrooms and their meals delivered. They will conduct personal daily health screenings and temperature checks to monitor for symptoms of the virus.
“They will not be able to leave the room,” Witkowski said in an email response to questions, noting a “Quarantine Care Team” will lead activities and virtual events for the isolated students.
Skidmore College will be quarantining students in a Saratoga Springs hotel beginning Aug. 7, but Skidmore spokesperson Sara Miga declined to identify which hotel.
She said the college was contacting students and families but didn’t know how many students would need to quarantine since it continues to change. Skidmore students can also coordinate their own quarantine, but they have all been informed they must complete the 14 days of isolation.
“Skidmore will provide necessary support to students as they quarantine according to CDC and New York state guidelines,” Miga said in a response to questions. “This will include a private room and food services for a 14-day period leading up to the start of the first-year student orientation and the beginning of classes.”
Students quarantining in the Saratoga hotel will be tested there and not allowed to return campus until they have finished their 14-day quarantine and tested negative for the virus, Miga said.
Union College has a couple of extra weeks to work out the details of its student quarantine since its semester starts later than other colleges in the area. But the college didn’t answer questions about where and when students would quarantine and how many students Union officials expect will have to do so.
“We are currently reviewing our plans to comply with the quarantine requirement for the upcoming year that begins in September and will have information to share with our community in the coming days,” Union College spokesperson Phil Wajda said in a released statement.
“This is going to be a semester unlike any semester any college student has been through,” said Mary Beth Labate, president of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York, noting statewide about 60,000 college students are expected to require the two-week quarantine before starting the school year.
While colleges across the region plan to welcome students back to campus in the coming weeks, many are still relying on a mix of in-person and virtual instruction. In some cases students will travel back to campus, quarantine for two weeks and still take some of their classes virtually.
But colleges hope to restore as much normalcy as possible – even as plans aim to stagger schedules, limit gatherings and promote mask wearing and social distancing.
Labate said colleges have been working on health and safety measures since the spring, while also improving different modes of instruction. She said students and families have been asking for campuses to re-open, and she is hopeful they will take seriously the measures colleges have put in place to ensure student and staff safety.
“These students are coming, their families are making a major investment to be here, and I think they understand for that investment to pay off they need to comport themselves in an appropriate way,” Labate said.
Colleges will need a steady supply of infection tests and the ability to get results in a timely manner in order to carry out their safety plans.
Labate said many colleges have established testing partnerships and planned for sufficient capacity. While Labate said she hasn’t heard of colleges facing testing issues yet, she acknowledged tests remain a critical challenge, noting the state may be able to support colleges’ testing efforts or other improvements may work to ease testing challenges.
“I haven’t heard of any major issues,” she said. “One thing about the virus is when it changes everything around it changes.”
Restrictions due to the pandemic and the resultant economic recession have exacerbated existing financial difficulties for many colleges. The College of Saint Rose on Thursday released a statement saying it had begun an internal review to reduce academic expenses by $6 million out of a $71 million budget. The review is expected to be finished by the end of the fall semester. "Any loss of faculty positions would not take effect until December 2021," according to the announcement.
John Brueggemann, a Skidmore sociology professor, said a major question that remains is how students will behave when they are not in the more controlled campus settings. “What’s it like on Friday night?” and what impact does that behavior have on the broader community.
Brueggemann said he and other professors are looking forward to connecting again with students and developing plans for courses that meet the needs of different students – some on campus and some still away – and engaging them in new ways. Professors at Skidmore had the choice of holding courses virtually or in person.
“Everyone I talk to is absolutely committed to doing everything possible to make it a good educational experience,” he said, noting virtual platforms still enable a lot of creativity in developing engaging classes. “I want to make sure as much as possible we become a vibrant learning community.”
He said ultimately it’s unfair to reduce students’ options to remote versus in-person instruction because the form of in-person instruction that was so normal until March is no longer a viable option for any college professor.
“That’s not what the choice is right now, there is no normal right now,” he said.