By Drew Wemple
Things will look quite different this year when students depart for Thanksgiving break. Last week, the SUNY system approved SUNY Plattsburgh’s plan for fall departure testing. What used to be a time of melancholy toward leaving friends at school yet returning to friends and family back home has now added the influence of another round of mandatory pool COVID-19 testing.
The SUNY system’s guidelines for required fall departure testing included instructions for when and how to test students, quarantine, isolation and leaving the campus.
“SUNY directed its campuses to develop a plan to test students prior to the end of the on-campus portion of the fall semester. With the guidance provided, campus leaders here developed a plan based on the ongoing process of pooled surveillance testing, isolation and quarantine protocols, food service requirements and more. The plan was submitted to the system and approved,” SUNY Plattsburgh President Alexander Enyedi said.
SUNY Plattsburgh submitted its plan before Nov. 5 and released it to the student body the following day.
According to the plan, all students taking at least one in-person class, utilizing services on campus, such as residence halls, the library, gym and dining venues, or working on-campus must receive a COVID-19 test prior to leaving campus.
To prevent the possible spread of the virus, students shall not leave campus until they receive a negative test result. A rapid antibody test will not suffice.
The campus began pool testing Wednesday for on-campus and commuting students, then continued until today, testing the rest of the on-campus student body and off-campus students who meet the criteria for testing. If an on-campus student tests positive in this batch of departure testing, they will be moved to an on-campus isolation room, and off-campus students will be required to isolate themselves per campus protocols. Students who are discovered through contact tracing to have been in close contact with someone who tested positive will be quarantined.
“When a pooled test sample comes back positive, we have almost always been able to identify the individual,” Director of the Student Health and Counseling Center Dr. Kathleen Camelo said. “When someone tests positive, we contract to trace who that person has been in contact with.”
If a student tests positive, but their discovered contacts have already left for the semester, Camelo clarified they can contact trace to students back home.
There are some students, however, who feel like this plan is unreasonable in the fact that SUNY shouldn’t determine who leaves and who doesn’t.
“I don’t think it’s fair that the campus has a say on if we should be allowed to go home or not,” sophomore Grace Koetzle said. “It should be up to our parents if they want us home or not.”
“SUNY highlighted that its campuses take seriously the responsibility for the health and safety of faculty, staff and students, and also for the communities within which campuses reside,” Enyedi said in response to these claims. “It is ultimately a health and safety issue for each of us.”
As for students who fail to comply with the departure testing procedures per campus protocol, their case will be referred to the Student Conduct Office. Director of the Student Conduct Office Larry Allen declined to be interviewed for this article.
There are many aspects to this fall departure testing plan, but Camelo said everything they do for the school is within reason.
“In the public health world, we do as much as we can that’s reasonable and practical,” Camelo said.