OSWEGO — Citing the inevitability of hitting the state-prescribed limit of coronavirus cases on campus, SUNY Oswego announced Friday it would suspend all in-person learning and move to fully remote instruction for at least two weeks.
SUNY Chancellor Dr. James Malatras and SUNY Oswego President Deborah Stanley made their third appearance together in the last two weeks, joined by Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow, to announce the decision. All three took the opportunity to explain in detail how the school and city got to this point, and what it will mean for students, faculty and the greater Oswego community.
“I want to stress that moving to remote learning does not mean we are closing the campus or shutting down operations,” Stanley said, calling it a “pre-emptive ramp up of efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19.”
“We will work carefully and intensely towards the goal of ‘restarting’ our in-person learning at the conclusion of the two-week period, with face-to-face classes resuming on Oct. 5,” she said. Once a campus reaches 100 positive test results in a two-week period, that campus must move to exclusively remote learning by order of the New York State Department of Health. SUNY Oswego’s reported total of cases Friday was 90, just halfway into the current two-week period.
Students are not being sent home, Stanley stressed, and students who leave campus during this time will lose college card access and be prohibited from returning.
“As medical professionals warn: traveling home and back to campus can spread the disease in both locations,” Stanley said. “Further, we do not have the capacity to house or monitor precautionary quarantine for all students upon their return.”
Malatras, who started as executive of the State University of New York system just last month after a career in state government and education, said Oswego “remains a model of how you should address this virus and crisis.” The decision to pull the trigger on cancelling in-person classes was announced Friday, he said, to avoid the “highly disruptive” process of a mid-week transition. Having inspected the Laker campus multiple times already during his short tenure, Malatras was “confident” that with “the right response measures and a buy-in from students, you can tame the COVID-19 beast.”
“At the end of the two weeks, we’ll look at the trends and consult our stakeholders,” Malatras said. “The campus is flattening the curve. If the virus is contained, and because of every mitigation strategy the campus did — and did quickly — I’m hopeful by Oct. 5 we’ll demonstrate that cases remain low.”
College officials will have to work with state and local health departments before in-person classes can resume, Malatras said.
Both Stanley and Malatras were satisfied with the college’s handling of COVID-19, they said, because of their diligent adherence to New York State Department of Health guidelines. The initial surge in cases was detected late last week through “aggressive pooled surveillance testing,” officials said, and a “zero-tolerance” policy was enacted on athletics, Greek Life, in-person dining and residence hall visitation. The only measure recommended by state health experts that the college had not activated was all-virtual learning. The decision to take the final step wasn’t easy.
“We deeply value the benefits to students of in-person learning and we know classes are monitored with students wearing masks and distancing, and the rooms and furniture are disinfected,” she said. “However, to give containment our very best efforts, we need to comply fully with the guidance and suspend in-person classes.”
Among the new measures as of Friday, Sept. 18, according to SUNY Oswego, are:
- All instruction (at both the main campus and Syracuse campus) will be delivered online and in a remote learning format. All hybrid and face-to-face classes will shift to online.
- Residential students are required remain on campus in their current housing locations. All students, both on campus and off campus, are required to limit their movements to essential needs only (e.g., attend their jobs, medical appointments, access food).
- Students in quarantine and isolation by order of the Oswego County Health Department will be cared for and remain in their current locations until they are released by the Health Department.
- Students will continue to have access to labs, studio work and research activities that will continue to be available in existing formats as directed by faculty.
- Health services, robust internet and dedicated student services will continue to be provided to students with enhanced virtual programming to keep us all connected and engaged.
- All extracurricular programs, and other non-essential student activities have been suspended.
- All operations of the college will continue, with essential personnel reporting to serve students.
- Faculty will shift to fully remote instruction during the pause. Face-to-face instruction will return when the college receives approval to “restart” in-person classes.
- Non-essential employees should continue to work as agreed upon in their supervisor-approved work plans. SUNY Oswego will continue to strive to reduce density on campus with a workforce that does not exceed 50 percent
- Increased testing: Aggressive surveillance testing throughout the pause will continue, officials said, and all Laker students — on-campus residential students, off-campus and commuter students — will be tested over the next two weeks.
“This is our time to rebound and come out of this pause even stronger and healthier than before,” Stanley said.