State University of New York schools in St. Lawrence County continue to field concerns over the spread of COVID-19 and issues related to students remaining on campus.
At the direction of the SUNY system and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s orders to reduce density and slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, all SUNY schools are allowing students on campus only “under very limited circumstances.”
With the exception of international students who are unable to return home, those who have limited or no access to technology at home or those who do not have “a safe or appropriate alternative location,” students are restricted from returning to campus after extended spring breaks, even to retrieve belongings, at both SUNY Potsdam and SUNY Canton.
The measure follows Gov. Cuomo’s New York State on PAUSE executive order that took effect at 8 p.m. Sunday.
SUNY Potsdam and SUNY Canton have each been maintaining COVID-19 update sites, where university officials post the latest information about remote academic work, social distancing policies and responses to new state directives.
Unlike private universities, SUNY schools — even under normal circumstances — cannot make decisions about closures or major changes to university procedures without permission from the state, though campus-specific responses may vary.
“In a system with 1.2 million students, we understand that one size will not fit all,” SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson wrote to the SUNY community March 13. “We will work to find solutions — on a case-by-case basis, if necessary — to ensure that every student can continue their education and complete their coursework to the extent possible.”
Of SUNY Canton’s approximately 3,200 total students on any given year, about half normally live on campus. Now, about 140 students remain on campus due to the exceptions outlined by SUNY, according to Senior Media Relations Manager Gregory E. Kie.
Following the announcement of the PAUSE order Saturday morning, SUNY Canton President Zvi Szafran reminded students on the university’s COVID-19 site that only those who had been pre-approved are allowed on campus.
“Anyone arriving without permission will be sent home immediately at their own expense,” he wrote.
The Saturday message followed a March 17 announcement that students not approved to remain on campus “are no longer permitted to return to campus to retrieve belongings.” Prior to March 17, students were allowed to return to retrieve essential items.
The university’s residence life staff told students they can now request to have essential belongings — books, notebooks, laptops or medications — mailed to them.
SUNY Canton students permitted to return to campus following the extended spring break, which ended Sunday, have begun to return, and only four of those permitted students returned over the weekend by bus, others by different means, Mr. Kie said.
Misinformation circulated on Facebook Saturday about the regularly-scheduled chartered bus for students returning to campus after spring break from New York City.
North Fork College Express bus fares are typically offered through SUNY to students traveling for spring break, and once an extended spring break was announced, the bus schedule was adjusted to reflect the new return-to-campus date, which would have been Sunday.
But those bus trips were canceled Friday, and students at SUNY Potsdam who wished to return to campus to retrieve belongings prior to the PAUSE order implementation Sunday night, made other arrangements to travel back.
Facebook users in Potsdam expressed concern about Potsdam students returning to campus in their own vehicles before the PAUSE order took effect. One user wrote that they went to the university Saturday to film movement on campus.
Students returning to SUNY Potsdam to clear out residence halls were asked to arrive during scheduled time windows with additional precautions in place, Director of Public Relations Alexandra Jacobs Wilke said.
During normal move-in and move-out days, SUNY Potsdam provides carts to families for moving items, but because the proper sanitation of carts between uses could not be ensured, the university could not provide such accommodations, she said.
For students living off campus, the university does not have control over travel choices, though SUNY Potsdam discourages any unnecessary travel and urges all students to follow coronavirus directives.
“They are expected to follow all rules issued to protect public health,” Ms. Jacobs Wilke said of SUNY Potsdam students, including those still living off campus in the area.
Of the 1,545 students who lived on campus at the beginning of the spring semester, about 80 have been approved to live on campus based on SUNY’s exceptions, though the number is likely to fluctuate below 100 because of applications being finalized or students deciding not to return, Ms. Jacobs Wilke said.
About 75% of those 80 to 100 students, she said, never left the area for spring break.
“We’re talking 25 students, at most, who are returning from break and staying,” she said. “And there’s actually a very small number of students coming from high-incidence areas of the state.”
Those remaining are living in single rooms in Knowles Hall, and anyone returning from areas with high incidence of the virus, like New York City, are required to complete a 14-day quarantine to meet Department of Health standards.
As of Sunday night, ID cards are disabled for students not permitted on SUNY campuses, visitors are barred and non-essential gatherings banned. Sanctions may be imposed on students who violate current procedures.
“It’s a very different life right now all over,” Ms. Jacobs Wilke said. “Because it has to be.”