Albany mayor concerned about the rise in COVID cases among UAlbany students

Legislative Gazette file photo
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan says she is closely monitoring a steady rise in COVID cases among SUNY Albany students in the last week. “We have implored students to abide by social distancing rules, wear a mask, and avoid large gatherings – and it is clear that some are not listening,” Sheehan said on Friday.

A sudden rise in COVID-19 cases at the University at Albany is concerning local officials.

As of Sept. 14, there are an estimated 56 positive cases recorded at UAlbany. Out of those 56 cases, more than 30 were reported in the last five days. Many of the cases are being identified with athletes and off-campus students living in the Pine Hills neighborhood of Albany. However, cases are not limited to these students. There are still 10 positive cases among students living on campus.

SUNY administrators and the governor himself have made it clear that, if not handled diligently and quickly, an uptick in cases can result in the suspension of in-person activities, classes and events on a SUNY campus. Campuses that record 100 cases in a two-week period will be closed to in-person learnign and activities for the remainder of the fall semester.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, in a statement on Friday, September 11 said she is “deeply concerned with the spike in cases and again urged students to avoid large gatherings.

“I’m deeply concerned by the spike in COVID-19 cases reported last evening by SUNY Albany,” Sheehan said. “I have spoken directly with President Rodríguez and reinforced my concern for Albany residents who may come in contact with infected students in our stores, restaurants, and parks. 

“We have implored students to abide by social distancing rules, wear a mask, and avoid large gatherings – and it is clear that some are not listening,” Sheehan added. “My message to students at each of our city’s [colleges] is simple: mask up or shut down. We will continue to partner with UAlbany to keep our community healthy.”

In the hopes of maintaining a healthy and safe environment at the University at Albany during the fall 2020 semester, every student planning to study, visit or work on campus were required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result, confirming that the virus had not been detected. 

Michael Christakis, vice president for Student Affairs at UAlbany, sent out a letter on Aug. 10 to both remote and on-campus students, informing them that they would have to sign a mandatory pledge to follow the University’s COVID-19 rules and regulations prior to returning to campus on Aug. 23. The letter informed the students of this prerequisite, and asked for every student’s commitment to themselves and their community. 

Photo courtesy of SUNY
SUNY Chancellor James Malatras, left, and UAlbany President Havidán Rodríguez tour the Albany campus at the end of August.

Following the initial letter sent to students, Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, president of the University at Albany, sent a follow up letter on Aug. 31st regarding off campus gatherings that resulted in the temporary suspension of four UAlbany students. 

Rodríguez addresses the suspension of four UAlbany students in his letter stating, “Some have suggested that this kind of behavior is inevitable, but we refuse to accept that young people cannot follow these straightforward rules.” The possibility of returning to a fully remote semester remains present, possibly inevitable, as Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has stated.

The school sent out a tweet last Thursday informing students that they were working with the Albany County Health Department to contain the cases that have already spiked on campus, but still remind students that it is absolutely essential they continue to follow public health directives that the state and University have mandated.The rest of the fall 2020 semester will depend on it.

As Rodriguez states at the end of his letter, “It is now time for everyone to get on board — or go home.”