CANTON — After the COVID-19 global health crisis prompted college and university closures this spring, officials from Clarkson University, SUNY Potsdam, SUNY Canton and St. Lawrence University began adjusting schedules, postponing events and updating protocols, preparing for eventual reopenings. Next month, those reopenings are set to begin.
Across the four members of the Associated Colleges of the St. Lawrence Valley, more than 3,000 employees and 12,000 students teach and learn each year, bringing a combined estimated $1 billion to the Canton and Potsdam local economies, the Associated Colleges consortium reports.
“A major component of our efforts is in community engagement and getting the assistance, the guidance of our community in this process,” said Ben R. Dixon, administrative coordinator for the consortium. “We recognize that our universities are part of our host communities in Canton and Potsdam and St. Lawrence County, so it’s very important for us all to work together in this reopening process.”
In a Zoom Technologies conference call Tuesday, the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce hosted a presentation and discussion about reopening plans with the Associated Colleges.
Representatives from each university reviewed respective plans: Lisa M. Cania, SLU vice president for community and employee relations; Kelly Chezum, Clarkson vice president for external relations; Nicole Conant, SUNY Potsdam president’s office chief of staff; and Lenore VanderZee, SUNY Canton executive director for university relations.
In concert with Canton and Potsdam village and town boards, local and state law enforcement, St. Lawrence Health System, the county Public Health Department, and the local and county Chambers of Commerce, the four universities have developed reopening plans based on the latest state Department of Health guidance for higher education.
The guidance outlines 22 subtopics across four major categories — reopening, monitoring, containment and shutdown — that institutions must cover in restart plans. Reopening, the largest of the four categories, details nine subtopics dealing with capacity, personal protective equipment, testing, residential living, operational activity, restart operations, vulnerable populations and hygiene, cleaning and disinfection.
Crossover operations at institutions — dining halls as food service industries or campus shuttles falling under the transportation industry, for example — will be required to abide by industry-specific guidelines.
“Our plans are subject to change as we go — they’re living plans.” Mr. Dixon told about 80 participants on Tuesday’s call. “We will be continuing to work extremely closely together to make sure our plans adjust, as needed, to the circumstances that come to us as a result of the pandemic or from New York State guidance.”
Hybrid modes of in-person and online instruction are planned for each university, with phased move-ins beginning Aug. 15 at Clarkson, Aug. 17 at SLU and SUNY Canton, and Aug. 24 at SUNY Potsdam. International students and those from states listed under New York’s travel advisory are set to arrive at Clarkson Aug. 1, and quarantine through Aug. 15. Those students arriving to SLU will arrive by Aug. 8, and quarantine through Aug. 22.
Classes start Aug. 19 at Clarkson, Aug. 26 at SLU and Aug. 31 at the two SUNY schools. Students at all four universities are expected to leave campus by Nov. 24 for the fall semester, with exceptions planned for those unable to travel home.
Each university has plans in place to test all students for COVID-19 upon arrival and continue testing on a weekly, random basis throughout the semester. Additional testing for students with symptoms, as well as a system of contact tracing has been organized by each school in cooperation with the county Public Health Department.
The relationship between the influx of students and local businesses, Mr. Dixon said, is all about balance. Supporting local businesses in host communities is a core value for the Associated Colleges, he said, and engaging in safe and healthy support is more important than ever.
All students will be required to sign school-specific social contracts, regardless of on-campus or off-campus residency. The expectation is that students follow social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines on campus and around the county. Local businesses are expected to practice and enforce those guidelines, too.
“We have a lot of faith in our students as members of our community that they will respect the laws and regulations that we put in place and respect you as business owners, that they’ll respect the protocols you have in place as well,” Ms. VanderZee told community members.
Chamber Executive Director Brooke E. Rouse and Clarkson President Anthony G. Collins both emphasized the county’s higher education reopening as a county-wide effort to support campus and host communities.
“Whether we like it or not, I think the eyes of the state, maybe even the nation, are on us, because we’re in the first group opening up higher education,” Mr. Collins said. “This is a major team effort and we can get through this, I think we can do it very successfully, and I think we can literally show the state and the nation how to do it well.”