Virus spread spurs campus action, anxieties

SUNY Oswego's COVID-19 dashboard, seen above with the latest data as of 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 14, provides daily updates on testing and cases.

OSWEGO — The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Oswego County continues to rise, almost exclusively due to a surge in cases at SUNY Oswego.

Cases at the college, and in turn Oswego County, have been steadily on the rise for more than a week, with 128 active cases in the county as of Monday afternoon, up from just 16 active cases two weeks ago. More than 60 individuals in the county tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend, according to the Oswego County Health Department, bringing the total number of cases in the county to 477 since the pandemic started in March.

Oswego County Public Health Director Jiancheng Huang said in a statement Monday that most of the weekend’s cases came from SUNY Oswego students. Huang said the county Health Department is coordinating with the college and state health officials to manage the outbreak.

“We continue to work closely with the college and the state Department of Health to address this increase of positive cases,” Huang said in a Monday statement. “It is critical that residents everywhere follow the precautions. We all must wear our face masks and be diligent about handwashing and maintaining social distancing.”

According to the SUNY Oswego COVID-19 dashboard, there have been 70 new positive cases at the school since Friday, including 40 students living on campus.

Shortly after SUNY Oswego students returned to campus, the number of cases started to slowly increase before more than tripling last week. More than 40 percent of the 477 total cases of COVID-19 in the county since the pandemic started in March have come since Aug. 14 when students started returning to campus.

In response to the surge in COVID-19 cases over the past week, SUNY Oswego President Deborah Stanley and SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras announced a series of “urgent and severe campus actions” on Sunday. Included in the measures are an indefinite suspension of in-person dining, prohibition on visitors in residence halls, suspension of athletic activities for the remainder of the semester and ramped up testing for off-campus students.

Malatras and Stanley praised the “large majority” of students but promised swift and serious punishment for individuals violating the school’s mitigation measures.

“It’s beyond time for you to do the right thing,” Stanley said in a direct appeal to students, urging them to “abide by all directives and safety measures issued by the college, city and state.”

College officials said 10 Laker students have already been suspended for violations.

Despite the mounting number of COVID cases on campus, classes resumed Monday as scheduled.

State officials previously established protocol that would move immediately to an all-online learning model if more than 100 on campus students, or 5 percent of the school’s on-campus population, were infected with the virus, but SUNY officials clarified Sunday 100 cases must occur within a two-week period to trigger the campus shutdown.

County health officials reported Saturday 77 individuals on campus had tested positive for the virus, with an additional 48 individuals off campus testing positive. Though an additional 60 students tested positive over the weekend, Saturday marked the beginning of a new 14-day period.

“As of Friday, Sept. 11, at the conclusion of our first 14-day period, SUNY Oswego had 82 positive cases counting toward this NYS-issued 100-count threshold,” Stanley said on Sunday morning. “Therefore, no change in instruction status was applied.  We began our second 14-day period yesterday, Sept. 12, which runs through Sept. 25.”

Prior to Sept. 10, the highest number of active cases in Oswego County (61) was hit on June 25 after an outbreak at an apple processing facility in Oswego Town. State and local health officials tested more than 100 employees and many of their contacts and discovered a cluster that reportedly resulted in more than 80 cases in Oswego and Onondaga counties.

County health officials urged Oswego city and town residents to take extra preventive measures as many students are living in the city and town.

Positive cases of COVID-19 have been identified in each reporting area in Oswego County, which include all the towns and cities, according to county data. The cities of Oswego and Fulton have the highest number of confirmed cases, followed by Oswego Town, Granby and Hastings.

Health officials urge residents to take these precautions:

• Wear a face mask or covering over your nose and mouth.

• Keep six feet from other people.

• Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating.

• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

• Stay home if you are sick unless you are seeking health care.

• Call your healthcare provider from home if you are experiencing symptoms such as a fever,

cough or shortness of breath.

• Call 911 if you are experiencing life-threatening conditions.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, chills, repeated shaking with chills, gastrointestinal illness and new loss of taste or smell.

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