Gov. Cuomo Deploys SWAT Team to SUNY Oneonta to Contain COVID-19 Outbreak

SUNY Oneonta
SUNY Oneonta

Governor Andrew Cuomo has dispatched a COVID “SWAT” team to SUNY Oneonta after 105 students test positive for the virus. On Wednesday, 71 contract tracers and eight case investigators from the New York State Department of Health will set up 15- minute rapid testing sites on campus. 

The infection that spread at SUNY Oneonta has been linked to several student parties in and around campus, state officials said. Three campus organizations and five students have been suspended for participating, WNBC-TV reported.

SUNY Oneonta's Incoming Chancellor, Jim Malatras said the school will close for in-person instruction for the next two weeks. The suspension went into effect Sun. Aug. 30 at 9 p.m. and run through Sept. 13. At that time state, school officials and the local health department will determine if it is safe for in-person learning to resume.

COVID-19 cases started to surface last week at SUNY Oneonta when undergraduate students returned to school for the fall semester. It was reported that only 20 people tested positive. However, once a SUNY upstate medical team was dispatched and 3,000 students were tested, the total number of confirmed cases of COVID 19 reached 105, representing 3% of the faculty, staff, and students who are on campus and using campus facilities, university officials said.

“Colleges are the canary in the coal mine, and a 3 percent infection rate is high in a congregate situation, similar to a dense urban environment where you have people taking public transportation,” Cuomo said. “That’s why we’re deploying state resources to contact the new COVID cluster at SUNY Oneonta.”

Cuomo applauded Malatras for his actions, saying, "the chancellor is doing the exact right thing at Oneonta and I think he's taking the right actions across SUNY, and I think the private colleges should follow the example," reported by FOX News.

On Aug. 27, Cuomo announced that 100 cases are the minimum necessary to force a campus closure or an outbreak of 5 percent of the population. If a college outbreak occurs, students are required to do remote learning with limited on-campus activity for two weeks while the situation is evaluated by health officials. If the local health department finds the college cannot contain the outbreak even after the two weeks, the school may be required to continue remote learning or officials may impose other mitigation measures in consultation with the state health department.

The guidelines also state that if clusters of positive cases emerge on particular areas of campus while still below 5% or under 100 students, but "strain the college's ability to isolate and contact trace," the college has to shift to 100% distance learning "with limited on-campus activity.”

Athletic activities and other extracurricular activities must also be suspended, and the dining hall option must move to take-out only. 

Last week it was reported that more than 1,000 University of Alabama students tested positive for COVID-19 since classes resumed. SUNY Plattsburg was another college that made news headlines when officials suspended over 40 students who attended unsanctioned parties. Marist, Montclair State University and UConn were other colleges that recently failed to adhere to state and school protocols. In nearly every case of these unauthorized gatherings, reported by school officials, there was a failure to social distance and wear appropriate face coverings, reported by NBC 4 NY.

To help contain the outbreak in the city of Oneonta, New York State will open three free, rapid-testing sites that city residents may visit that is available by appointment.

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