ALBANY — SUNY Oswego is the latest educational institution to suspend all face-to-face academic instruction after a statewide directive from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Cuomo on Wednesday directed all schools within the SUNY and CUNY system to prepare plans for a move to a “distance-learning model” for the rest of the semester.
“While the risk to New Yorkers remains low, we are taking a number of steps out of an abundance of caution to protect public health including asking SUNY and CUNY to implement strategies to reduce density on campuses for the remainder of the semester,” Cuomo said. “At the same time, we’re continuing to prioritize ramping up testing capacity because the more people you identify as having the virus, the better you can contain it.”
The announcement from the governor mandates that “all campuses will develop plans catered to the campus and curriculum-specific needs while reducing density in the campus environment to help slow possibility for exposures to novel coronavirus.”
SUNY Oswego officials on Wednesday afternoon announced the suspension of face-to-face academic instruction would begin effective March 19, with no certain timeframe for when students may again gather in classrooms. The college’s spring break begins this weekend.
“This is a time of unprecedented circumstances that will no doubt create burdens and challenges for students, faculty and staff,” said a statement from SUNY Oswego President Deborah Stanley following Cuomo’s announcement. “Be assured we will continue to closely monitor and evaluate information and guidance provided by state and federal agencies in order to inform future decisions.”
In her statement, Stanley advised students, faculty and staff to take any devices or books that will be essential for completing coursework remotely. Campus auxiliary services will remain open in a limited capacity throughout the semester for students who are not able to leave campus.
“Although there are no known cases of COVID-19 in the SUNY Oswego community, we have given a great deal of careful and thoughtful consideration to taking prudent action in light of what we know about current cases in New York state, the normal patterns of travel of our campus members during this period of spring semester, and the highly contagious and transmittable nature of COVID-19,” Stanley said. “The public health risk appears great and we believe the health and safety of our campus and greater community can be best served by taking the actions we are announcing.”
According to the governor’s office, the state will provide two weeks paid leave for its workers who are quarantined as a result of the virus.
SUNY chancellor Kristina M. Johnson said the university system is prepared to allow students to continue their education, albeit through the Internet, through the crisis.
“SUNYOnline is a major initiative for our system and we have been preparing to migrate many of our academic programs to this new distance-learning platform,” Johnson said. “With more than 100,000 SUNY students currently taking one or more classes online with us, we believe we are prepared and well-positioned to take advantage of remote instruction to further our student’s education during this crisis.”
The announcement from Cuomo for campuses to begin preparation for the suspension of classes came as news to many educators and SUNY leaders.
SUNY Orange President Kristine Young sent a mass email to her students expressing surprise over the announcement.
“There is no other way to put it: I am as stunned as you are,” said the email, a copy of which was obtained and reviewed by The Palladium-Times. “Simply put, college administration needs time to digest what has been said in order to compare it with plans we are preparing. I pledge to give you a meaningful update tomorrow afternoon.”
The state eclipsed 200 confirmed cases Wednesday, most of which are concentrated in the downstate city of New Rochelle.
As of Wednesday afternoon 121 of those cases were in Westchester County and 52 were in New York City.
Although there are no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Oswego County, one college-age person remains under voluntary quarantine and Oswego County Health Department Director Jianchang Huang said earlier this month it’s likely that much of the county could contract the disease, but only a small portion will show symptoms.
The SUNY and CUNY schools are not the only educational systems that have the virus on their radars. Oswego City School District Superintendent Dr. Dean Goewey sent an email to parents Tuesday stating the district is monitoring the situation and listening to advice from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the New York State Department of Health.
Some measures being taken by Oswego city schools, according to Goewey, include sanitizing of schools, classrooms and school buses, sending sick teachers and students home when they display symptoms, monitoring absenteeism and by building and reviewing the district’s emergency response plan.
Fulton City School District Superintendent Brian Pulvino said he is also monitoring the situation.
“We’re getting new information every day and we’re always looking for new guidance from the CDC, from the department of health and the governor,” Pulvino said. “We’re watching closely what’s going on nationwide and trying to learn from what other people are going through.”
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-NY, addressed the press Wednesday criticizing the federal government’s response to the outbreak and saying that there are not nearly enough kits available to test for the virus, which are needed to control its spread.
“When you can’t test, you don’t know who has the virus and who doesn’t. It leads to further spreading of the virus and it leads to all kinds of panic among people who think they might be exposed and have no way of knowing if they are,” Schumer said.
Schumer said it is “very likely” other communities in New York will experience the same type of containment currently happening in New Rochelle.