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Capital Region Colleges Welcome Students Back To Campus Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

A college classroom at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, NY
Dave Lucas / WAMC
A college classroom at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, NY

As Albany area colleges and universities welcome students for the fall semester, officials are working to ensure regular in-person instruction, on-campus housing and student life will resemble pre-pandemic days, as much as possible.

Nearly a year and a half after the pandemic took hold in the U.S., colleges nationwide hope to control the spread of COVID-19, often in classrooms where masks are still required. With the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine, the state-mandated directive for all students to be vaccinated is now in place at all SUNY campuses.

Classes are already under way at the University at Albany. Jordan Carleo-Evangelist is a college spokesperson.

"Vaccination is required for all students living on and off campus. Now, residential students, students who live on campus were required to have at least one dose before being allowed to move in. So those 6,700 students came back with at least one dose, or a very small number with approved exemptions. And now as of Monday, with the full FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine, all students coming to UAlbany for any reason, to learn, to work, to work out, to eat, need to be vaccinated, and they'll have until August 31st, to get their first dose of a two-dose vaccine. So obviously, vaccination is the biggest part of it. And it's our strongest tool to keep the virus from spreading. But in addition to that, many of the safety protocols we had in place last year are back in modified form. As the Delta variant began to increase in recent weeks, we went back to across the board, indoor masking for everybody. That's both faculty, staff, students, and whether or not you're vaccinated."

College of St. Rose President Marcia White says with 85% of courses being taught in-person, students must show proof of vaccination or documentation of a negative COVID test.

"September 9th, we will be moving to mandating vaccination because we'll also be having a vaccination clinic here. So our students will be able to get their first vaccination on campus if they haven't received it by then. So you know, we're following the science and the FDA just approved the vaccine. So that was one of the requirements that we would be going into, mandating vaccination once the vaccine was approved, and it has been approved by Pfizer. So we feel that this is the best way to protect our students, our employees, and have a kind of environment that our students can come back to campus.”

Hudson Valley Community College President Roger Ramsammy believes vaccination, masking and communication will ensure that all students manage to get through the entire semester at the Troy college.

"The county vaccination van will be on our campus so that we can get students who need the help, to go out and get vaccinated to be done. Staff, faculty, everyone. We are also doing testing on the campus. So we have a testing site on campus every day. So folks who need to do their weekly testing can come up and get the weekly testing. We're putting in place a lot of communication through our communication office, to faculty to communicate with students wise in the classroom, to communicate with staff, so that they cannot keep advising everyone of the process. Communication is always the biggest issue for everything, right? Because I can tell you what I'm doing right now and it's interpreted 10 different ways. So we're trying to do really consistent messaging."

Over at Albany Law School, President and Dean Alicia Ouellette says masks are required for all students, staff and visitors.

AW "So we opened on Monday and everybody's vaccinated. We were at 98% vaccinated. We're wearing masks inside. And we're doing surveillance testing, just to be sure. So we're doing some random tests of people even though we're vaccinated, so we're taking it very seriously being very careful. But we're hoping for a safe semester."

Ouelette adds that although the transmission rate is high across the Capital Region compared to earlier in the summer, the college has returned to "a fully in-person law school experience."

Vaccinations are offered at most pharmacies and doctors’ offices. Many SUNY campuses also host vaccination sites. Check with your campus or find a vaccination site near you.

Visit UAlabny's Campus COVID-19 Dashboard for the latest case and testing numbers.

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.