ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — More often than not, the coronavirus prevails against any contingency plan. Strong or weak. Thorough or lazy. Great idea or bad idea.
After just a few days of play, Major League Baseball’s 101-page plan is being put to the test. As many as 13 members of the Miami Marlins tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday, and many suspect that in due time, the Philadelphia Phillies, their opponents over the weekend, will report cases.
With the school year looming and COVID-19 cases rising in more than 30 states, this news has many wondering if college campuses and K-12 schools across the country are next to go toe-to-toe with outbreaks.
For now, St. Bonaventure University remains confident in its plan to start in-person classes on Aug. 24.
“It’s impossible for anyone to express 100% optimism in anything during the pandemic, but given that we’re in a region that’s been relatively unscathed by COVID-19, and that we’ve built a reopening plan that emphasizes safety over everything, we’re as confident as we can be in our plan,” Tom Missel, SBU’s chief communications officer, said.
Cattaraugus County Health Director Dr. Kevin Watkins expressed similar thoughts in an interview with TAPinto Greater Olean on July 17.
“If you wanted to look at safety by the prevalence of virus within the community or in the state, then I would say that at this point, New York is pretty safe to open up schools,” Watkins said. “We are seeing a low transmission rate in New York State. We are seeing a low hospitalization rate, and we are seeing a low mortality rate. So at this juncture, I would say it's safe to open schools."
There have been 120 total confirmed COVID-19 cases in Cattaraugus County since March. Eight cases are active; 108 individuals have recovered, and four have died. From the outset of the pandemic, Cattaraugus County has had one of the lowest transmission rates in the state.
In New York State altogether, the trends have been just as encouraging, especially recently. According to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, New York administered 57,270 COVID-19 tests on Sunday; 608 of them came back positive (1.06%), and 11 people died. Hospitalizations are down to just 642.
In the last seven days, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control, New York has confirmed 4,569 COVID-19 cases (New York City accounts for 2,009 of them).
With optimism, though, comes some concern.
SBU officials understand that the only way a full, smooth, successful fall semester happens is if everyone — students, faculty members and other employees — complies with mandatory precautions the university put forth in its 25-page Phase 4 reopening plan.
“It needs to be a community effort. Our faculty and staff need to be role models of compliance, but more significantly, students need to take personal responsibility for their own safety and out of respect for the safety of others,” Missel told TAPinto Greater Olean on July 15. “The more students that comply with wearing face coverings and social distancing protocols, the less likely other students will be to not follow suit. Herd mentality is a powerful force. The bottom line is, we all need to feel empowered to tell each other to please comply with the rules for the good of everyone.”
Even before the school year begins, all eyes are on the student body.
The university requires all students to test negative for coronavirus within 14 days before they return to campus for the fall semester. While Watkins believes the requirement is an important one, he cautioned that students could become infected with COVID-19 after receiving their test.
“For instance if a student says, ‘I am a freshman. I am going away to St. Bonaventure, and I am going to have a big send-away party,' ” Watkins told TAPinto Greater Olean recently. “They decide to have a party at their house after they have been tested for COVID-19, and someone at the party could be asymptomatic or symptomatic. They could get exposed after that test has been administered. They could very well come on campus unknowingly positive.”
There is also growing concern about off-campus behavior during the school year. Many have blamed the country’s summer surge in COVID-19 cases on young adults and their activity at bars, parties and gatherings.
In East Lansing, Michigan, at least 80 individuals contracted COVID-19 after one person went to a bar while infected. Similar situations have occurred in nearly every other state, including New York.
As a result, on July 16, Cuomo announced new regulations for bars and restaurants throughout the state: Establishments can only serve alcohol to individuals who order food.
According to page eight of SBU’s reopening plan, students living off campus will need to provide Residence Life with their addresses. The university stated that the associate dean for campus safety and the associate dean for student life will serve as primary contacts and liaisons for local law enforcement in responding to off-campus student behavior.
“That is where we have started to see community-wide spread of COVID-19 in at least 39 other states because there were large gatherings, there were young people getting together and having a good time,” Watkins said. “Whether they were on the beach, at the bars or in homes, it didn’t matter. It was very uncomfortable for public health officials, because we know that the virus has not gone away. When you are in those types of settings, you do increase your propensity of contracting the virus.”
While nobody wants to think of the possibility, it is naive not to as COVID-19 continues to show that no boundary is strong enough. The university has a thorough plan in place to handle on-campus outbreaks (pages 19-23 of the university’s reopening plan).
Students who test positive for COVID-19 are required to report the test to the Center for Student Wellness.
A student who tests positive will be asked to quarantine at home, their residence hall or at the university's designated quarantine location on the first floor of Doyle Hall, if needed.
Employees who test positive will be placed on applicable leave for a minimum of 14 days pending their health status. Employees will quarantine at home, and a physician’s statement provided to Human Resources will be required in order for the employee to return to work.
“We’ve worked with the county health department to establish an overflow plan if we have a small outbreak that extends beyond our ability to quarantine everyone affected,” Missel said.
In the event that an outbreak becomes too extensive on campus or in the surrounding area, though, the university has identified risk assessment factors and as well as the five shutdown triggers listed below.
- Rapid detection of an increase of COVID-19 cases within the campus community
- Rapid detection of an increase of COVID-19 symptoms within the campus community. Growing evidence of transmission risk from infected people
- Increased community transmission in the immediate surrounding community
- Inability to isolate positive cases on campus or within the community through the Cattaraugus County Health Department
- Health Services triage reports, categorizing all patients presenting illness/concern
While university officials remain cautiously optimistic with classes scheduled to start in 27 days, they also know how quickly things can change.
SBU will learn many things in the first days and weeks of classes, including how compliant students, faculty members and employees are with a new normal. It may also learn if school during a pandemic is feasible.
“If any college has a chance to fight through this until Thanksgiving (end of in-person classes), we do,” Missel said. “But it simply won’t be possible without the full cooperation of the entire staff and student body.”
For more information on the Coronavirus in the Greater Olean area, visit TAPinto Greater Olean's Coronavirus Updates page, which is updated continuously.
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