As students begin to return to local colleges, municipal and campus officials are preparing for the COVID cases they may bring with them.
Two confirmed COVID-19 cases were reported at SUNY Cobleskill last week by the Schoharie County Department of Public Health. None were reported at SUNY Oneonta and SUNY Delhi as of Aug. 24.
Schoharie County Director of Public Health Amy Gildemeister told the county’s Board of Supervisors during its meeting Friday that the first case was handled in a “textbook” manner.
Gildemeister said the student had been tested prior to leaving for school, but the result did not come back until after that student arrived on campus. The student’s only exposure had been to a roommate and both were quickly isolated for quarantine, she said.
“I really have to congratulate the students involved for doing the right thing,” Gildemeister said. “I am sure that will not always be the case.”
Gildemeister also praised the college for having a strong policy in place to keep students and the county’s other residents safe.
“Both students followed protocols, notified SUNY of their positive results and had close contact with only their roommates,” she said in a Friday statement. “There was also excellent communication and teamwork between SUNY staff and SCDOH nursing.”
Cobleskill students started moving onto campus last week and classes began Monday, Aug.17.
SUNY Oneonta began a phased move-in schedule Monday, Aug. 17 and started classes Monday, Aug. 24.
The college reserved two residence halls to serve as quarantine locations should any COVID cases crop up, according to Kim MacLeod, associate director of communications for SUNY Oneonta. “We also have a team of professionals who would care for those students in quarantine.”
Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig reported Monday that just over 2,000 students had checked into their dorms and that 97% of SUNY Oneonta classes would be held online.
“This past weekend was not what we were hoping for,” Herzig said, noting that Saturday night was “very bad” and estimating that “hundreds, if not thousands of students were downtown partying.”
“This kept our police very busy — it kept them overwhelmed,” Herzig said. “This absolutely cannot continue.”
“In hindsight, some of the regulations designed to protect us may be working against us,” he continued, highlighting that the reduced capacity of bars and restaurants and strict campus policies are likely driving students to socialize in off-campus residences. “It’s not a whole lot of fun to be on campus, so I have no doubt that coming off campus is very desirable.”
Oneonta Police Chief Doug Brenner said he planned to step up enforcement of the ban on large gatherings, Herzig said.
“Large parties endanger everyone’s lives,” he said. “This is not what it’s all about right now. An outbreak is the last thing any of us want to see.
“Enforcement shouldn’t be our biggest tool,” Herzig continued. “Really it should be communication, it should be education, it should be appealing to the people’s sense of community. But if enforcement is the only tool we’re left with, that’s what we’ll use.”
Herzig said he requested a meeting with SUNY Oneonta President Barbara Morris to discuss how the city and the college could “turn this around,” but was denied.
Herzig said he was also denied requests to address Oneonta students virtually at their orientation and to distribute his letter of welcome through campus communication channels.
“I have been one of the biggest supporters of SUNY Oneonta,” Herzig said. “I think it’s one of our greatest assets here in the city. The students bring so much to our community … not just economically, but culturally. We need them.”
“These are very unusual times, very dangerous times,” Herzig said. “The stakes are very high. I promise you we’re going to do everything in our power to turn this around.”
Hartwick College students began moving in Saturday, Aug. 22, and the majority of SUNY Delhi students are set to return this weekend. Classes for both colleges are scheduled to begin Monday, Aug. 31.
SUNY Delhi’s reopening plan has designated quarantine and isolation space within the residence halls, according to Dawn Sohns, the college’s vice president for marketing and communications.
A media representative from Hartwick College did not return a Monday afternoon email requesting comment by press time.
Daily Star staff writer Greg Klein also contributed to this report.