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Capital Region colleges prepare for returning students amid omicron variant

Dave lucas
Returning college students are being met with new COVID regulations.

With the rush to "test and mask" as COVID-19 cases rise, area colleges are tweaking protocols as they prepare welcome students back in January. New York Governor Kathy Hochul says eligible students and faculty returning to SUNY and CUNY colleges will be required to receive a booster shot.

In Loudonville, spokesperson Lisa Witkowski says private Siena College is reviewing the situation daily.

"Siena College hosted three booster clinics for its community back in December," Witkowski said. "Each clinic was open to 500 people and each clinic was full," said Witkowski. "So we wanted to offer that opportunity for our students right on campus for their convenience. Right now Siena College leadership is developing the most thoughtful and appropriate response plan for its community regarding COVID. We're balancing the top priority of our community’s health and safety with a co-priority of offering an on campus student experience that's reflective of their mental health needs and their need for connection as a community. Siena College made a strategic decision earlier this year to start the spring '22 semester a week later than usual. Our classes are scheduled to begin on Monday, January 24."

The College of Saint Rose in Albany says it will hold classes remotely for the first week of the spring semester, January 18th to the 21st. In-person instruction is to resume January 24th. Students will still be able to move into the residence halls the weekend of January 16th and 17th. The private college in Albany says all students and staff will be tested for COVID upon arrival on campus. The college has scheduled two on-campus booster clinics in January and February timed to coincide with booster eligibility for those who were vaccinated during on-campus vaccine clinics in the fall.

Students returning to the University at Albany will be required to get COVID-19 boosters. The requirement also applies to all athletes and students who take part in club or intramural sports. Jordan Carleo-Evangelist is a spokesperson for the SUNY college.

"So we're preparing for spring 2022 Much the same way that we've prepared for every semester on this pandemic," Carleo-Evangelist said. "Now we have, at this point, the luxury of experience, which is both good and bad. But you know, we continue to watch you know, the daily and weekly trends in terms of new cases, hospitalizations, etc. And we're staying in close contact with the Albany County Department of Health with SUNY with the New York State Department of Health and, and we're adjusting our protocols accordingly. Part of that requires that we remain flexible again, which is something we're very used to, because we've been doing this for so many semesters now at this point, specifically for spring 2022. We are mandating that all residential students, all student athletes, and all students participating in club and intramural mural sports, receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster if they are eligible. And we're doing that now in anticipation that by the start of the spring semester, or very soon thereafter, a vaccine booster will be required for all students, regardless of whether they live on campus or not. And really, it's just about adding layers of protection to the infrastructure we've already built."

UAlbany says failure to follow protocol will result in a loss of access to campus housing, exclusion from athletics, club sports and intramurals, and possibly deregistration from classes. Students who don’t get a booster and those exempted from the requirement for medical or religious reasons will undergo weekly testing.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute spokesman Gary Zarr says students at the Troy private college will begin the semester remotely on January 10th.

"They will begin to come back to campus on the 14th. They'll be tested twice a week. And then on the 24th, depending on the outcome of the tests, and also, the COVID situation in the county, classes are expected to begin, again, in class on the 24th." Zarr said. "This is really a strengthening of the COVID protocols that President Jackson started really, before this year began, and it's been very effective. But you know, with the Omicron spread in the Capital Region, as well as around the country, it was decided to strengthen the protocols for the students and the faculty, the staff."

Hundreds of breakthrough COVID cases at Cornell in Ithaca led to a remote ending of the fall semester.

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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