With new testing rules and no spring break, SUNY campuses prepare to reopen

Legislative Gazette photo by Ariana Jimenez
Staff volunteers direct SUNY New Paltz students how to properly collect a sample swab for COVID-19 pool testing on campus January 28, 2021.

Even though classes have already begun online, the 64 campuses in the State University system are preparing to reopen this Monday, February 1, for the spring 2021 semester with new precautions in place to protect professors, students and staff. 

As seen in the fall semester, the spread of COVID-19 forced SUNY Oneonta and a handful of other SUNY campuses to shut down either temporarily, or for the remainder of the semester. Since then, changes have been made to better contain the virus.

SUNY students, faculty and staff will have more access to testing; spring breaks are being cancelled to cut down on student travel; and dorms will be kept partially vacant. Up to 75 percent of classes will be taught remotely this spring to reduce the density on campuses.

Additionally, masks must be worn in public spaces at all times and there are uniform enforcement and disciplinary standards for students who break the rules.

“As our campuses begin their spring semesters, we are excited for our students but also aware of the challenges that still lie ahead because of COVID,” said SUNY Chancellor, Jim Malatras. “That is why we have developed comprehensive reopening plans to put the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff first. And, it is the reason we have already increased the frequency of testing on our campuses. We will also continue to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances regarding COVID, such as new strains and higher levels of cases.”

Before any student returns to campus, they will be required to quarantine and take a COVID-19 test, producing a negative result. All in-person instruction has been delayed until Feb. 1 to allow for an appropriate amount of time for students to abide by the new rules that have been implemented. Spring breaks have also cancelled and the break was broken up into individual rest days throughout the semester. 

Students enrolled in health care and related disciplines have volunteered to administer COVID testing on their campuses. As of now, there are approximately 2,500 students who have signed up to volunteer in this role statewide. 

Since the 2020-2021 academic year began in August, SUNY has conducted 726,336 tests with a 0.57 percent positivity rate.

“As we begin our spring semester, testing is a critical element of our comprehensive reopening plans, allowing our campuses to quickly respond as any cases arise in a targeted way,” Malatras said. “That is why we’ve increased the frequency of testing to a weekly basis of all students, faculty, and staff on campus. And the majority of campuses are utilizing SUNY Upstate Medical’s number one ranked worldwide saliva test, which can detect traces of COVID at the earliest stages, including the new strains entering the country.”

These mandates are being followed statewide, throughout all SUNY schools. Individual campuses are developing additional regulations.

For example, due to SUNY Oneonta’s short-lived in-person semester last fall, extra precautions are being taken which includes: a low-density residential model, only allowing for 650 students to live on campus in single dormitories. Students will be tested once a week if they live on campus or have to travel to campus for any reason, such as an in-person class. There will be random surveillance of off-campus students every week and a new Parents of Off-Campus Student Ambassador program to help build a community among off campus students and their parents.

SUNY campuses are unique and face different challenges related to the pandemic, so Malatras is reviewing individual campus plans during these first few weeks of the semester.

Legislative Gazette photo by Ariana Jimenez
SUNY New Paltz students collect samples for COVID testing in the lounge of Awosting Hall on Thursday, Jan. 28. All SUNY students will be tested regularly throughout the spring semester to detect any possible outbreaks or surge in cases.

At New Paltz, roughly 75 percent of classes will be remote, and at least 25 percent will be seated in person or conducted as a hybrid class, as was done for the fall 2020 semester. The number of students residing on campus will be limited to approximately 1,500, down from full capacity of 3,400. Overall, there will be far fewer students on campus this semester with about 2,000 students registered for at least one in-person class, or expected on campus for work or to use services, down from about 7,500.

All SUNY campuses will continue to report positive cases daily via SUNY’s COVID-19 Case Tracker. Over the past 14 days, there have been 844 positive cases across all 64 campuses, with tests being administered on and off campus.