By Drew Wemple
After almost seven weeks of pooled COVID-19 testing with zero positive cases, SUNY Plattsburgh is now beginning to see its first spike.
Administrators and faculty within specific offices are continuing to keep students informed and safe in light of an increase in cases both within the campus community and Clinton County.
Within the past week, 29 new total cases have been reported. There are now 117 total students in quarantine; 80 on-campus and 37 off-campus. There are also two students in cautionary isolation but have tested negative in a rapid COVID test.
SUNY Plattsburgh President Alexander Enyedi held a virtual town hall meeting Oct. 16 to discuss the recent positives.
“I believe it is important to be both open and transparent with the campus community,” Enyedi said. “The goal is to provide a clear summary of where we are, provide further updates and answer your questions.”
Over the course of his 45 minute town hall meeting, Enyedi discussed several key things having to do with the college’s recent rise in cases. The first being that the college has temporarily stopped all Cardinal athletics and one of the nursing clinicals.
“This wasn’t directed by public health orders but by a desire to be proactive and careful,” Enyedi said.
Enyedi also made another crucial point in response to questions surrounding whether the pooled testing results have been faked or skewed. The campus sends their results following every testing session to SUNY Upstate Medical University to be reviewed.
“It’s a real lab with real results being used across the SUNY system,” Enyedi said.
On Wednesday, Enyedi’s email update said pool testing continued with 1,496 samples taken over the past two days.
Enyedi also described if and when the college would move to remote learning. The New York State Department of Health has set a 100 active case threshold for determining whether a campus moves to remote learning for two weeks.
Teachers and faculty would be given an advanced warning if this were to occur. During that time, students would still be able to live on campus, barring a continuous spike in cases. Upon return to in-person classes, students would be required to undergo more COVID-19 testing, as well as an increase of SUNY uniform safety sanctions.
These uniform sanctions were put in place Oct. 1 and emailed to all students by the Vice President for Enrollment and Student Success R. Lizzie Wahab. This was the direct decision of SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras.
“These aren’t a new set of rules,” Director of Campus Housing and Community Living Stephen Matthews said. “It’s basically an attempt to standardize each college’s reaction to students violating COVID protocols.”
Violations include but are not limited to: failure to self-isolate, failure to quarantine, prohibited on-campus gatherings and failing to comply with health protocols. The penalties can include suspensions from housing, academic suspensions and even potential dismissal.
“There’s definitely an overlap between these new sanctions and our existing COVID protocols,” Director of the Center for Student Involvement Cori Jackson said. “Most students have done a good job, but it’s important for all students to understand the consequences.”
Both Matthews and Jackson sent another email to students Oct. 2 reinforming all students about the new uniform sanctions. The email also commended students for their work so far in following COVID protocols.
“We see this as an opportunity to inform first,” Matthews said. “It’s never fair if you don’t know the rules you’re playing by.”
Faculty and staff have also taken on a different role other than just inform and enforce. In an email update regarding cases numbers sent Oct. 18, Enyedi also informed students that faculty have been helping quarantined and isolated students “quarantine buddies.”
Quarantine buddies are faculty and staff members performing tasks and favors for on-campus, isolated and quarantined students. Isolation is when a student is physically ill, quarantine is when a student has displayed symptoms but has a negative test or has come in close contact with a student who has tested positive.
There are currently 100 quarantine buddies, according to Michele Carpentier, the assistant vice president for student affairs and the director of Special Programs.
“They form a relationship with these students and give them someone to talk to,” Carpentier said. “They are also doing favors for these students that the school isn’t offering, like shopping.”
These quarantine buddies are a part of several groups lending their time to help isolated and quarantined students. The Student Support Services office has also offered students a chance to earn volunteer hours by delivering food to students in quarantine and isolation. Those quarantining or isolating in Banks or Harrington Hall will order food delivered to them from Clinton Dining Hall food from a menu delivered to them every night for the following day.
Carpentier also added that the school will begin offering those students a chance to participate in virtual activities. These activities will include exercise videos, DIY project videos, zoo tours and other various online games.
“We will continue to do our best in keeping our campus community safe and updated,” Enyedi said.