As COVID-19 spikes begin to spread across the country, states with large college student populations are fearful that COVID may spread upon their return home, and rightfully so.
Specifically for SUNY students, every student — who has taken at least one class on campus, utilized the gym, library or dining hall, or works on campus — must test negative for COVID-19 within 10 days prior to leaving their respective college campus.
SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras announced the new testing mandate on Oct. 27, sharing that this new procedure will require all 64 SUNY campuses to test approximately 140,000 students within the 10 days prior to Thanksgiving break; for students, this can be as late as Nov. 23.
“As in-person classes and instruction come to a close next month, tens of thousands of students will travel across the state and country to be with their families and complete their fall courses remotely,” Chancellor Malatras said in a press release shared SUNY-wide.
“By requiring all students to test negative before leaving, we are implementing a smart, sensible policy that protects students’ families and hometown communities and drastically reduces the chances of COVID-19 community spread. While we understand there is a lot of focus on plans for the spring semester, we must first finish this semester safely. I want to thank our students for the phenomenal effort during these difficult times as well as SUNY health policy experts for helping us create this guidance that ensures a safe wind down of the fall semester.”
Prior to the start of the fall 2020 semester, fall plans were shared with SUNY and they approved them. Within those plans, every student who returned to campus knew that after Thanksgiving, all classes would be held remotely in order to stop mass travel and in turn, a greater spread of COVID-19.
In SUNY’s most recent information regarding the permanent residences of SUNY students from fall 2019 enrollment, 90.9% of SUNY students live in New York, 4.1% live out-of-state and 5% are international students.
“The SUNY guidelines expect testing within 10 days of campus departure and we’ll be close to that at least,” said SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian. “We’ve put in place plans to add a second pool testing site. We’re working with ways to get that capacity up to 1,000 tests per day if we need to, so we think we’ll have the capacity to provide those tests within a narrow window of time.”
In order to offer available testing to students, SUNY New Paltz adopted a plan to test students between Nov. 16 and 20 by utilizing pool testing procedures that have been followed all semester.
In order to decrease the capacity of students trying to get tested at one time, dates were specified depending on a student’s major: Nov. 16 and 18 for business, liberal arts and sciences, fine and performing arts, and education majors; Nov. 19 and 20 for science and engineering majors, and undeclared and non-matriculated students.
For students who are unable to get tested within those times, there is a last chance pool testing block on Nov. 23 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Note: this is outside of the normal 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule. All test results must be submitted to SUNY New Paltz no later than Nov. 30, including off-campus test results, and students who fail to submit their results will “face judicial consequences,” according to a campus update.
“We’re hoping that we can rely on the good spirit and graces of students,” President Christian said regarding implementation of the mandate. “We’ve heard students speak about how they care about and are concerned about the health and safety of family members, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and the enforcement is one of the softest parts of this, which is why we’re appealing as much as we can to students caring about friends and family members who may be much more vulnerable than 18 to 15 year olds.”
Although this testing is mandated and every student must be tested, the email also states: “Please note that while we expect results by Nov. 25, delays are possible, meaning that results from tests taken on Nov. 23 may not be available until after Thanksgiving.”
“We’re permitted to provide [positive students] housing, along with all the support,” President Christian said. “The SUNY policy leaves open the option for a student who tests positive to return home and quarantine if they can do so safely in that setting.
“I think that almost all of those kinds of quarantine matters are dealt with in conjunction with local county health departments, so our campus would be in touch with a county health department in a students home county, to verify the student’s quarantine space. We have had off campus students who have tested positive quarantine at home in a presumably safe space, and I don’t know what all that’s looked like, but it has worked in some circumstances.”
Over the past week, reminder emails have been sent to students based on their declared majors to get tested, reiterating the importance of protecting the health and safety of family, friends and communities when returning home for winter break.
“We thank all students and community members for their perseverance during an unprecedented time on our campus, and as always, for adopting a ‘We, not Me’ attitude this semester,” said Residence Life in an email to students.