In-person classes suspended at SUNY Oneonta

Greg Klein The Daily Star

SUNY Oneonta President Barbara Morris speaks as SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras watches Sunday, Aug. 30. SUNY Oneonta will go to all online learning for two weeks as state and local officials assess the coronavirus outbreak at the school.

ONEONTA — SUNY Oneonta will halt in-class learning for at least two weeks after the number of positive coronavirus cases at the school topped 100 on Sunday, Aug. 30.

Hoping to contain the worst back-to-school outbreak in the SUNY system, new Chancellor Jim Malatras visited the campus Sunday, a day earlier than scheduled, as the infection rate continued to swell. He told reporters at a media conference he expected the number to continue to grow and said he hoped the outbreak taught students and all citizens a lesson that the virus is not contained and still spreads at a stunningly quick rate.

By the time Malatras toured the school and met with students, local officials and the media, Gov. Andrew Cuomo had already broken the news. The school had 105 positive cases by Sunday morning and about a 3% positive rate, thereby meeting state criteria to shift to a two-week campus pause.

SUNY Oneonta will close classrooms, stop all group activities, including sports workouts, and keep on-campus students in place, while increasing mental health services and quarantine units. During that time, state and local officials will monitor the situation and determine if campus activities can resume.

In addition, the state is sending resources to Oneonta, deploying a "SWAT team" of contract tracers and testing facilities. All residents will have access to free 15-minute rapid testing, beginning Wednesday, Sept. 2.

Malatras said the outbreak has been tied to several large parties and he complimented Morris for taking swift action against students who broke the rules about get-togethers.

Morris said five students and three organizations have been suspended for hosting events.

The SUNY system got involved in the Oneonta outbreak Friday after 20 positive cases had been reported. Friday and Saturday, SUNY Health and Medical and SUNY Upstate Medical professionals helped campus leaders with a mandatory pool testing for 3,000 students.

By Sunday morning, the number of positive nasal tests had reached 71, Malatras said, and 34 more students were flagged from the initial round of pool tests. Malatras said 18 of 29 initial pools showed positives.

Oneonta had been relatively unscathed during the first months of the pandemic, with about 30 cases citywide prior to the SUNY outbreak. Otsego County had only had 110 cases during that same time period, a number nearly matched in the first week of SUNY Oneonta's on-campus return.

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