COVID-19 has quieted Plattsburgh State during the second half of the spring semester, but offices like University Police and Emergency Management are doing what they can to ensure safety for the about 200 students remaining on campus and the future of next semester during the pandemic.
DECREASE IN CRIME
With a majority of PSU students staying home and off-campus due to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order to switch to distance learning after spring break, University Police Chief Patrick Rascoe said campus crime is extremely low.
“There’s not a lot of opportunity for students to be doing things wrong, which is really good,” Rascoe said.
UP crime logs from the first half of this semester show a variety of reports on and around campus, including larceny, driving while intoxicated and illegal possession of alcohol. Roughly four to five of these crimes were reported each week. But after students left campus and didn’t return, reports decreased dramatically. Rascoe said there were two weeks when no crimes were reported at all.
Before students left, 45% of all campus crimes this semester were unlawful possession of marijuana. Each time, the odor was reported, officers investigated and found students with small amounts of marijuana. While Rascoe could not comment on the “appropriate charges that were filed” with each report, he said drug charges like marijuana are very common — about 140 reports during a normal academic year.
“Aside from the first week that we were online learning, when we had about two [reports], I don’t think there have been any since then,” Rascoe said.
Medical marijuana use has increased in Plattsburgh in recent years, since Columbia Care dispensary came to the city in 2016 and was later taken over by Curaleaf in 2018. Curaleaf is the only medical marijuana dispensary in the North Country. Yet, recreational use is popular among college students, especially on the national smoking holiday of 4/20.
But this year, fewer students means less illegal activity. Rascoe said there were no complaints on campus related to marijuana on April 20.
“I actually walked around campus [that day], and I didn’t even smell any,” Rascoe said. “You know where to walk. You walk along the river, you know the spots the students go to, and not even those locations did I smell any. Even walking by Broad Street Commons, I didn’t smell it.”
INCREASE IN SOCIAL DISTANCING
About 200 students are living on campus since PSU’s switch to online learning. But because some students with apartments off-campus continue to reside in Plattsburgh, Rascoe said some residents began to call the police when they saw college students gathering in groups off-campus.
“Those were addressed by the city PD, and, in some cases, [were] found to be OK,” Rascoe said. “Students who all reside together in a single place are allowed to be together. That’s their family unit. If they have five people in their house, and those five people are on their front porch, that’s absolutely allowed.”
In order to ease community members and reduce the amount of complaints, Rascoe sent out an email to all students March 24, reminding them of Cuomo’s executive order to cancel or postpone all non-essential gatherings and limit outdoor recreation to non-contact activities. Rascoe asked those remaining on campus or in the city to stay vigilant in practicing social distancing during this time. After that, he said students seemed to comply, and no other issues on or around campus have come up since then.
“I’m very pleased with how students have received the guidance I’ve given them,” Rascoe said. “It’s difficult to convince people not to get together. Humans want to have interaction with other humans, especially younger humans. A social life is a big part of being young, so it’s really difficult for [their] age group.”
INCREASE IN PROCEDURES
Rascoe also said that while his role as chief has changed slightly since the switch to online learning, his position on the Emergency Management Advisory Committee has focused its efforts on safety procedures on campus during the pandemic.
Office of Emergency Management Director Michael Caraballo said EMAC is the reason behind most emergency management procedures implemented for PSU since Cuomo’s order, including the relocation of students to different residence halls to increase social distancing, the creation of isolation rooms in each hall in case a student feels sick and the increased supply of personal protection equipment, like cleaning supplies, hand sanitizers and masks, to both the college’s janitorial services and students.
Preparation for these new procedures began as early as January, according to Caraballo.
“In January, when we saw this happening in China, one of the thoughts [in OEM] was to have a tabletop exercise to discuss how we would respond to this if it comes to our campus,” Caraballo said. “Things happened quicker than I expected, quicker than anyone expected, so we had to fast-track that training.”
These tabletop exercises, where Caraballo, EMAC and other stakeholders meet to discuss possible scenarios, problems and solutions related to any emergency at hand that could affect PSU. Caraballo said the most successful one on March 9 — four days before Cuomo’s order — outlined a possible switch to online learning and other possibilities that Caraballo said eventually came to pass.
“The scenarios that I created actually turned out to come [true], so I had to adjust my scenarios further out into the future, but it proved to be very helpful,” Caraballo said. “We had a huge group of stakeholders that attended, and we were able to plan as a group, identify those resources and potential issues ahead of time.”
According to Caraballo, some COVID-19 procedures came as a result of what PSU did during the swine flu pandemic in 2009.
“We had some background in dealing with a pandemic, so we used the models and planning process we had back then to look at what we might have to do for this one, but obviously, this was a whole different ball game,” Caraballo said.
The COVID-19 campus news and updates page on the school website is where any updates, procedures and general information about PSU during the pandemic are shared to the campus community. Caraballo said the creation of this site has helped share important information immensely. He said a similar tactic was done in 2009, but a new drop-down menu for procedures related to pandemics, epidemics or widespread illnesses in general was never added to the long list of campus emergencies on the OEM’s web page. Caraballo agreed that a new procedure listed on the website for this type of emergency should be included.
INCREASE IN UNCERTAINTY
In an email from President Alexander Enyedi last week, PSU administrators are now beginning to initiate scenario planning that “considers important areas such as health and safety, academics, student support, campus life and equity” for the fate of next semester.
“Students and parents, faculty and staff want to know what is happening and when,” Enyedi wrote. “While we want to provide answers, we need to be deliberate, thoughtful and understand we are still in a period of uncertainty. There are some things we simply can’t know and others that will come from SUNY, state government and others. But we can shape our future together, and we will.”
Five working groups dedicated to these five areas have been created, each with a designated chairperson. Their work will be based on relevant data and facts as they progress through the pandemic, and decisions on the fall semester will be made by May 22.
Email Emma Vallelunga at firstname.lastname@example.org