SUNY Oswego is set to reopen on Monday, Oct. 5 following a precautionary two-week pause announced by President Deborah Stanley and SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras due to a surge in positive COVID-19 cases.
“The majority of our campus community has been following the rules and guidelines in place, which has helped us bring our positive cases down the past week. During the Pause, we have been intensely monitoring cases, conducting aggressive testing, engaging with our students via increased virtual offerings, and communicating with SUNY and the health department on the potential transition back to in-person classes,” said President Stanley in an issued statement.
The positive COVID-19 cases at SUNY Oswego, which resets every two weeks, is currently at 25 cases counting toward Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s threshold for Sept. 26 through Oct. 9. When the pause was announced, there were 82 active cases confirmed between Sept. 12 and Sept. 25. Campuses are required to move to remote learning for at least two weeks after reaching 100 positive on-campus cases.
“After an uptick late last week, the college quickly scaled back on-campus activities, enhanced safety enforcement and penalties, and expanded surveillance testing. The result has been noticeably increased compliance and a quick drop-off in cases—cause for cautious optimism for the days ahead,” said Chancellor Malatras.
The Legislative Gazette interviewed Rebecca Rutte, a fourth-year student living off-campus at SUNY Oswego, regarding her experience with the recent two-week pause. She described the pause as inevitable, which is why she made the decision to switch to all online classes shortly after the beginning of the semester.
“We’ve all talked about it and the main thing a lot of my friends have said is that if we were younger, if we weren’t seniors, we wouldn’t have come back this semester,” Rutte said.
Rutte is from a small town near SUNY Oneonta, which went fully remote for the rest of the semester on Sept. 3 due to a major spike in positive cases. She said that she took her role as a college student in the Oswego community seriously after her hometown community was impacted by SUNY Oneonta students’ return.
She described the needed revenue that college students bring to Oneonta, especially with the recent blow to surrounding tourist spots like Cooperstown, NY, home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Rutte also noted the potential threat college students bring to the greater community, who also face shutdowns as cases rise.
“In our area, there were businesses that were closing that could never, ever recover from this, so they need the college kids to come back, and Oswego is very similar,” Rutte said. “My parents own their own business so they’re affected by what happens because God forbid my parents get sick, they can’t create their own income anymore. When I came to school, I was like ‘I don’t want to be like Oneonta,’ and then all of the sudden here we are.”
The Ferris Wheel, a popular college bar at Oswego located on 6 Market St., was shut down after receiving numerous complaints of people lined outside without complying with face mask or social distancing requirements. Inside the bar, State Liquor Authority (SLA) agents found 40-50 people crowded into the bar. In addition to the capacity violations, the bar also was not serving food, which violated another state order. The bar’s liquor license was suspended as a result of these violations.
“My message to the small number who openly flout the rules is simple: we will not tolerate you putting yourselves, your customers, your employees, your neighbors, and our reopening at risk,” Gov. Cuomo said in a statement following numerous violations across the state.
A recent report of possible COVID-19 exposure was announced by the Oswego County Health Department at the Oswego Sub Shop located on 106 W. Bridge St, just a three minute drive down the road from the Ferris Wheel. But contrary to the case at the Ferris Wheel, Oswego County Public Health Director Jiancheng Huang emphasised that the restaurant was following safety protocols.
As of July 24, one month before classes began, Oswego County reported 6 active positive cases, 237 total cases. On Sept. 24, one month after the start of classes, the county reported 78 active positive cases and 586 total cases.
The rise in the county population in general due to students returning to class could be part of why the numbers increased so rapidly. Also, the SUNY system has expanded testing efforts, with Chancellor Malatras’ milestone announcement of 100,000 conducted tests over the course of a month. More testing could mean more cases are being caught early on and contained rather than going undetected and untraced.
Rutte reflected on the two-week pause at SUNY Oswego and what this will mean for the future of the semester and the future of the community.
“The one thing that changed was us coming back to school. That’s something I feel should weigh more on our minds is like, we’re not the only people in the area,” said Rutte. “Are we just going to go back to what we were doing? Or are we going to really buckle down with the new lifestyle and respect our community and respect others by doing our part?”