Colleges gear up for return to campuses

The sun sets on the St. Lawrence University campus in Canton on Monday. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

CANTON — The north country’s college campuses are readying for a new academic year during the same pandemic.

Students from the four Associated Colleges of the St. Lawrence Valley — SUNY Potsdam, SUNY Canton, Clarkson University and St. Lawrence University — are starting to return this week for the fall semester. Though in-person learning is back with many of last year’s campus restrictions and requirements lifted, protocols are still being implemented to manage the COVID-19 health crisis.

With fluctuating case numbers, more easily transmissible variants and evolving state directives, the general campus approach is one of flexibility — measures on a given morning may change by afternoon.

The Associated Colleges, as well as Jefferson Community College in Watertown, have developed plans for the 2021-22 year with special considerations for moving in, vaccination documentation, surveillance testing, classroom learning, masks and campus visitors.

Here are some plan highlights as of Wednesday:

St. Lawrence University’s semester is starting first, with scattered arrivals to Canton lined up through early next week. Classes start Aug. 25. Adjustments to SLU’s calendar and scheduled breaks will depend on local, state and federal public health guidance and case data. Mid-October, Thanksgiving and winter breaks are planned.

Vaccinated students will not be expected to submit a negative coronavirus test before arriving, but will be required to get tested upon arrival. Unvaccinated students with an approved vaccine exemption will need to submit a test result before arriving and be tested again on campus. Weekly surveillance testing throughout the semester will only include the exempt unvaccinated, unless conditions prompt more widespread testing.

Those without an approved exemption and unable to obtain a vaccine or complete a vaccine series before arriving will be allowed to remain on campus. But anyone else without an approved exemption will not be permitted to stay, and will be unenrolled from courses.

The majority of Clarkson University students will return to Potsdam late next week. Clarkson’s academic year starts Aug. 30. Based on submitted documentation, the university reports 99% of its employees and 97.8% of all students have been vaccinated for COVID-19.

Clarkson meeting room and facility reservations for outside community groups will be suspended this fall, though campus departments and groups may request permission to allow guests to participate in meetings and events.

Masks are required for everyone in Clarkson’s indoor public spaces until at least the mid-October break, when the policy will be reevaluated, according to a Tuesday announcement. Specific exceptions include when eating or drinking, when alone in a closed room or in private living spaces. SLU has implemented a similar mask mandate, citing the local and national rise in COVID-19 cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is assigning one of four COVID-19 transmission levels — low, moderate, substantial or high — in line with a county’s number of new cases per 100,000 people in a given week. Substantial classification equates to between 50 and 99 new cases; high classification means at least 100 new cases in a seven-day period.

In counties where transmission is substantial or high, the CDC recommends wearing masks in indoor public spaces, regardless of vaccination status. St. Lawrence County is listed as having high transmission this week. Jefferson County maintains substantial transmission.

SUNY Potsdam started requiring masks for all students, employees and visitors this week, and the university plans to address the policy again in two weeks. Unvaccinated people on campus are required to also wear masks outdoors when others are present.

Inside SUNY Canton classrooms and laboratories, masks are required for everyone. If unvaccinated at SUNY Canton, students are expected to wear masks indoors and outdoors, unless alone, and be tested weekly. Similarly, SUNY Potsdam is requiring weekly surveillance testing for unvaccinated students.

Jefferson Community College is also requiring masks for everyone where two or more people are gathered. Weekly surveillance testing for unvaccinated or partially vaccinated students will be required.

SUNY Canton classes start Aug. 26; SUNY Potsdam and JCC classes start Aug. 30.

For the latest campus-specific updates, visit the college websites.

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