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SUNY Oneonta Starts Semester With Spike In COVID-19 Cases

SUNY Oneonta Seal
SUNY Oneonta Seal

Almost 30 SUNY Oneonta students have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of classes on Monday. College President Barbara Jean Morris says school officials are investigating reports of off-campus gatherings — including complaints of rush parties hosted by fraternities and sororities. WAMC’s Jesse King spoke with Abigail Perrin, a SUNY Oneonta senior currently living in town.

What is it like on campus right now? 

Abigail Perrin
Credit Abigail Perrin
Abigail Perrin

It's a whole different world on campus than normal. Everybody has to wear masks at all times — pretty much even if you're outside, because there's always gonna be groups of students. Most people are doing pretty well about it. I've only been inside a couple buildings on campus, but people are pretty much complying with the mask rules and [social distancing]. For exmaple, I have a class in a computer lab and we can only use every other computer, they took the chairs out for every other one. Our professor felt weird even lecturing because her voice was muffled, so it's just very different. 

How are things looking off campus? 

I've pretty much been hanging out in my apartment, so I haven't seen too much off-campus stuff. I have heard, obviously, that a lot of kids are having parties off campus — not that I've seen because I've just been in my own house — but I think that is a big issue right now. And they actually set up a tip line for people who live in town to report parties going on, and then I think the [Oneonta Police Department] shows up and shuts them down. So that's definitely been happening a few times over this past week. 

Did you have to get tested before coming back to school?

No, we didn't. 

OK, did they have you do anything before coming back to school?

They honestly did not have us do anything before coming back. I'm pretty sure they recommended quarantining for two weeks but to be honest, like, obviously, nobody really did that. My roommates and I decided to get tested before we came back — that was just on our own volition, but it was not mandatory at all.

How do you feel about the pool testing that they're going to be putting in place? 

I think it's a good idea, but I don't think it's going to be 100% effective, obviously. My main thing is I wish they did this right when we got back, instead of waiting a week to do it. 

So are you nervous at all about the cases coming out? 

Yeah, definitely. Especially because all the cases that I know of have been off campus, and I also live off campus. But honestly, I can't think of a way that the school would be able to enforce not having parties or anything off campus. I'm pretty sure they suspended all, like, Greek life activities and stuff — but in reality, what can they do to control off-campus people from partying or doing whatever? I personally think that we shouldn't have come back to campus this year, because I feel like there's just no way to be safe doing that right now. But like, in this situation, I feel like there's nothing much that they can do about off-campus stuff. 

Yeah, it's kinda like — now that you're here, you've gotta deal with it as it is.

Yeah, exactly. 

What's your argument for coming back then? Some students didn't come back at all, correct? 

Right, yeah...I feel like they didn't encourage people to stay home at all. I came back because I already signed a lease and paid my rent for my apartment — and I wasn't too nervous, because I know that my roommates and I are gonna be as safe as possible. But I know for a lot of people that coming back to school is something really important to them. So not being encouraged at all to stay home...it was an easy choice to make, to come back to school. 

There's been a lot of fear over the return of college students in general. What are your feelings about that? 

Even before we came back, I was like, "I feel so bad for anybody who lives in Oneonta year-round." There's nothing that they can do to prevent all these college kids coming back. And even yesterday, I was at the store and I heard this older woman who obviously lives in Oneonta — she was talking to somebody she knew that she ran into, and she was like, "Yeah, I don't go uptown. I don't go near campus, I'm trying to stay away from all of them" and everything. And I just felt so bad. They live here and this is kind of their place, you know? 


With students and staff returning to campuses across New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo says any college with 100 COVID cases or an outbreak equal to 5 percent of its population must switch to full remote learning for two weeks. 

President Morris says SUNY Oneonta has suspended all Greek Life recruitment events until further notice. The school is working with the Otsego County Department of Health to determine if any areas on campus require additional cleaning, and is boosting wastewater testing at its residence halls. On Friday, the college began pool COVID-19 testing for all students who live on campus, have in-person classes, or otherwise use campus facilities. 

You can find SUNY Oneonta's fall 2020 return plan here. The city of Oneonta has started a tip line for local residents wishing to report concerns over mass gatherings: (607) 376-7453


Soon after this story was published, SUNY announced a plan "to accelerate pooled surveillance testing of all students at the SUNY Oneonta campus after a number of students tested positive for COVID-19. SUNY’s Health and Wellness director and Upstate Medical University personnel have been deployed to facilitate testing to every student over the next three days. Upstate Medical will also train campus to administer further testing over the semester."

Jesse King is the host of WAMC's national program on women's issues, "51%," and the station's bureau chief in the Hudson Valley. She has also produced episodes of the WAMC podcast "A New York Minute In History."
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