Otsego County reported the first COVID-19 death in two months and noted an increase in new cases Monday, May 9. SUNY Oneonta reinstated mask requirements for the rest of the semester in response to rising COVID numbers on campus, but other schools have not followed suit.

The Otsego County Department of Health has recorded 377 new cases in May, including 97 reported on May 9. There are currently two county residents hospitalized with COVID, and there was one COVID death over the weekend. There have been 111 deaths attributed to coronavirus in Otsego County since the pandemic begin, and 16 in 2022, according to the county COVID dashboard. The previous death was reported March 8.

The number of cases is likely an undercount. “Home tests are not being reported to us, and also some antigen tests are not being reported,” said Heidi Bond, director of the county health department, on Monday.

At SUNY Oneonta, there have been 26 positive cases found out of 846 campus-administered tests in the past two weeks. This sampling means that there are an estimated 127 total positive cases on campus, according to the SUNY system COVID dashboard. The college’s positivity rate is above 3% for the past 14 days, the highest it has been since January.

“We are experiencing an uptick in both the student and employee populations. Currently, there are 33 students and 34 employees in isolation,” said a May 5 letter sent to all SUNY Oneonta students and staff by college president Alberto Cardelle and the leaders of the campus COVID Response Team. “The CDC indicates that Otsego County's community level of COVID is currently in the yellow zone/medium level.”

The temporary mandate went into effect May 6 and continues until May 20. It requires that masks be worn in all indoor settings on campus except in a few specific situations: when eating and drinking while seated, while working at office workstations and socially distanced, and for students in their own residence hall room. Eating and drinking in instructional spaces has been prohibited for the period.

While all audience members at indoor events will need to be masked, the policy exempts “performers or speakers who are fully boosted or have tested negative within the past three days.”

SUNY Oneonta Commencement ceremonies are scheduled for May 21. A decision about masking at commencement will be made after a re-evaluation of the situation, and will be communicated the week of May 16, the letter said.

Students and staff were also encouraged to take advantage of the warm weather to eat, take breaks and hold meetings outdoors. Cases of strep throat and flu have also been present on campus recently, according to the letter.

“Taking this small step together will not only help keep one another safe and healthy, but help maintain continuity in campus operations and functions so we can successfully complete the semester. Please continue to test regularly and report it to the college if you test positive. We know this is not the ideal scenario, but we want everyone to be healthy and well for the last two weeks of the academic year,” the letter concluded.

Hartwick College and the Oneonta City School District do not have any plans to require masks at this time. After announcing a one-week surge in cases last week, Hartwick College reported nine active COVID cases May 9 among those living or working on campus. However, Hartwick does continue to require masks for large events, including Commencement on May 21, Media Relations Manager David Lubell said Monday.

The Oneonta City School District has had 28 positive cases in the past week, according to the state Department of Health School COVID Report. Superintendent Tom Brindley said the district is working closely with the Department of Health and monitoring the situation. “At this point there is no plan for a mandate. Masks are still strongly recommended but optional,” he said during a phone call May 9.

Mike Forster Rothbart, staff writer, can be reached at mforsterrothbart@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow him at @DS_MikeFR on Twitter.

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