ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — The university requires all students to test negative for coronavirus within 14 days before they return to campus for the fall semester. 

Cattaraugus County Health Director Dr. Kevin Watkins believes the requirement will be an important measuring stick and as well as a preventive measure.

However, he cautioned, it will be only as good as students allow it to be. 

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In an interview with TAPinto Greater Olean Friday, Watkins explained why students must proceed with caution immediately after being tested for COVID-19.

“When you're testing an individual for COVID-19, it gives you information about that individual at that particular time,” Watkins said. “After the person has been tested, they can go out into the community and get exposed.”

Watkins continued, “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.’ 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.”

When students arrive on campus, they need to practice caution. Bar hopping, party going and other large social gatherings have been big parts of a typical college experience for students. 

As the Aug. 24 start to the semester approaches, Watkins said the university should be concerned about what has played out across the country in recent weeks: outbreaks among young adults due to 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, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced new regulations for bars and restaurants throughout the state: establishments can only serve alcohol to individuals who order food. 

“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. 

He continued, “When you are in those types of settings, you do increase your propensity of possibly contracting the virus.”

To date in Cattaraugus County, there have 114 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Nine cases are active; 101 individuals have recovered and four have died

With the school year looming ahead, Watkins said he would tell the SBU student body, “Be safe. There is no antiviral medication, and there is no vaccine available to treat this. The virus is still prevalent, although not very wide-spread in Cattaraugus County.

“You have to be smart. Smart, meaning that if you’re going to be at these gatherings, you should wear a face covering. You should try to maintain as much distance as possible. Frequently wash your hands. Those things seem to work. You want to enjoy yourself, but be smart about it.”

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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