College students retested for COVID

SUNY Potsdam Student Health Services staff administer nasopharyngeal swab testing for COVID-19 on Aug. 26, in a drive through format in parking lot 9. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

All on-campus SUNY students must test negative for COVID-19 before leaving campus for Thanksgiving break, officials said.

All students using any on-campus facilities at SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities must test negative for the virus within 10 days before leaving campus for the holiday, according to a Tuesday statement from SUNY.

About 140,000 students must be tested over a 10-day period before Thanksgiving break, which begins the week of Nov. 23, depending on campus academic calendars.

Campuses must develop schedules that conduct the test as close to a student’s departure date as possible.

Colleges and universities must submit a plan to test all on-campus students no later than Nov. 5.

SUNY’s system-wide testing requirement will help prevent community spread as students return to their hometowns, Chancellor Jim Malatras said.

“As in-person classes and instruction come to a close next month, tens of thousands of students will travel across the state and country to be with their families and complete their fall courses remotely,” Malatras said in a statement Tuesday.

“By requiring all students to test negative before leaving, we are implementing a smart, sensible policy that protects students’ families and hometown communities and drastically reduces the chances of COVID-19 community spread,” Malatras said.

Most SUNY colleges and universities are set to shift to 100% remote learning after Thanksgiving, with residential facilities shutting down, but exceptions for students with extenuating circumstances. This new testing mandate is designed to ensure that transition happens safely, according to SUNY.

Through ongoing communication with the state, SUNY Potsdam officials have been anticipating a Thanksgiving break COVID-19 testing policy.

“The last thing we would want to do is contribute to a spread,” SUNY Potsdam Director of Public Relations Alexandra Jacobs-Wilke said. “We’re glad that SUNY is showing leadership on this. We had already been working on what our testing protocols would be as students head home, so this will just help to clarify that.”

SUNY Potsdam, she said, plans to employ the same testing and phased procedures for moving out as the beginning of the semester, and the scheduling of tests will be worked out in the next few weeks.

Accommodations for students unable to return to a safe home by Thanksgiving are also being made.

Describing Mr. Malatras’ policy as “a necessary proactive step” to minimize the spread of the novel coronavirus, a SUNY Canton spokesperson said the university, 12 miles south of Potsdam, will implement a Thanksgiving break testing plan to maximize student safety and the safety of families and communities across the country.

Since the beginning of the fall semester, SUNY colleges and universities have tested more than 270,000 students with a positivity rate of 0.52%. System-wide cases continue to trend downward, according to SUNY.

“While we understand there is a lot of focus on plans for the spring semester, we must first finish this semester safely,” Malatras said. “I want to thank our students for the phenomenal effort during these difficult times as well as SUNY health-policy experts for helping us create this guidance that ensures a safe wind down of the fall semester.”

The college system’s rolling seven-day positivity rate is 0.32%, and the rolling 14-day positivity rate is 0.33%. For detailed coronavirus numbers by SUNY campus, visit the state’s COVID-19 Case Tracker at suny.edu/covid19-tracker.

St. Lawrence County reporter Ellis Giacomelli contributed to this report.

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