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After SUNY Oneonta Closure, Capital Region Colleges Look To Head Off Holiday Weekend Gatherings

WAMC Composite Image by Dave Lucas

With SUNY Oneonta shutting the campus down for the semester due to COVID-19, Albany area colleges have safety plans in place for the holiday weekend.

After unsanctioned gatherings at college campuses resulted in coronavirus spikes, local colleges are preparing to prevent outbreaks in the Capital Region. The consensus is that student behavior is playing a major role in reopening colleges, and the best plan of action is to compress schedules and keep students busy. UAlbany spokesperson Jordan Carleo-Evangelist says since July, the university has made its expectations of students clear, for both on and off-campus situations.

"All of the public health and safety rules that are enforced on campus are enforced off-campus as well. Students are accountable for them off-campus through the governor's public health order and through our campus code of conduct. So really what we've been doing is what we had promised we would do from the beginning, which is enforcing."

Four UAlbany students have been suspended for hosting unauthorized parties. A fifth was removed from on-campus housing for violating safety precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. Carleo-Evangelist says the majority of students are focused on academics.

"Many of our students come from downstate. Many of them lived with the worth of this pandemic over the spring. They saw it. They lived it. And they don't want to see it again. They want to come back to campus. they want to have as normal a semester as is possible amid a pandemic. And so they're not going to do anything to try to jeopardize it."

Travis Apgar is Assistant Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students at the private Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

"We've tested nearly 7400 students since August 17. We've had one true positive case. We're, I think, very fortunate that our population has shown up differently than what we've seen reported at a lot of other schools, that we've had just that one positive case."

Apgar says that individual is being cared for in isolation housing.

Carleo-Evangelist says UAlbany has been keeping an eye on social media.

"Just doing that we've been able to prevent several parties before they happen, which is the ideal scenario, because then you avoid the conduct and the contact that is so concerning with COVID-19. And then we monitor social media after the fact. And if we're able to obtain images, video of students and identify them as UAlbany students and they're violating our code of conduct, we can and will initiate proceedings based on that. So it's an ongoing process. We have staff on the streets with APD and other city officers this week visiting houses that concerns were raised about over the last weekend and we'll keep doing that."

Dr. Shai Butler is Vice President for Student Development and chief diversity officer at the College of St. Rose in Albany. She says for the most part, students are following guidance relating to COVID-19.

"We have taken a multi-faceted approach. Prevention. Education. And then when prevention and education don't work we become responsive and then we take punitive measures that really range, with a range of sanctions, depending on the type of infraction. As such, to date, we have no cases, no positive cases on campus."

The college has a testing partnership with the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, which receives samples collected from students tested on campus. Butler notes students and staff can use an online form to report any possible risky behavior.

"Something related to a student not related to a mask, to a party, you know, or a social gathering of some sort where social distancing isn't being practiced."

Reports are followed up immediately.

"We do monitor social media but we're not monitoring per se looking for parties and infractions. We're monitoring our 'Class of' pages, our parent pages, so that we're there as a resource to answer any questions."

For the holiday weekend, Butler says several online programs and activities have been scheduled as alternatives to going out and partying or gathering in person.

Apgar says RPI is also observing the long holiday weekend.

"It's also the end of our additional quarantine period which we put in place starting August 22nd. We'll include with the start of in-person classes on September 7th, so Tuesday, and in addition to that we have our students both on and off campus quarantined. We're also observing what's happening in the neighborhoods where students live, trying to make sure that there's a high level of compliance with not only quarantines but also state requirements of no social gatherings, you know large gatherings of people."

Carleo-Evangelist says UAlbany students do not have Labor Day off.

"Because of the compressed semester. So, normally, Monday would be a break from classes, but not this year. So while Labor Day is still a state holiday, it’s not a holiday on our academics calendar."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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