ALBANY — The state set a COVID-19 threshold for closing New York colleges and universities after thousands returned to classes this week, fueling new coronavirus cases and the potential for new outbreaks.
Any state college with 100 positive COVID-19 cases, or a number of cases equal to 5% of their population of students and faculty — whichever is less — must close and return to remote learning for two weeks.
“At which time, we will reassess the situation,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday during a telephone pandemic briefing with reporters.
Students will be allowed to quarantine in their dorms, if necessary.
Officials will re-evaluate reopening the campus with local health departments. A spike in positive coronavirus cases is expected with the increase in activity, Cuomo said.
“We should anticipate clusters when you have large groups of people — that’s what we’ve been seeing,” Cuomo said. “So be prepared for it. Get ahead of it. We expect it.”
The state’s rate of new COVID-19 infections remained below 1% for the 20th straight day Thursday at 0.95% of 791 new cases from the more than 83,000 tests conducted Wednesday.
Four New Yorkers died from the virus Wednesday, up from three COVID-19-related fatalities Tuesday.
Movie theaters, casinos and New York City indoor dining remain closed to patrons, despite the state’s continuously declining coronavirus figures. Officials continue to work on guidance to safely reopen the affected establishments, but kept the time frame vague Thursday.
“There are a number of areas where we’re still calibrating the reopening,” Cuomo said, adding indoor dining in the city remains a concern. “Casinos ... movie theaters we’re working on. We are reviewing and monitoring the numbers on a daily basis. These are fluid situations depending on the facts. We will make determinations at the appropriate time.
“Numerous people have opinions about what they think was going to happen,” Cuomo said, referring to the changing information about the coronavirus throughout the pandemic.
“I used to have an opinion about what I thought was going to happen,” he added. “Now, I keep my opinions to myself.”
The state deployed a SWAT team to Western New York on Thursday as a cluster of coronavirus cases in the region remains a concern, officials said, as its positive COVID-19 rate soared to the state’s highest at 2% Thursday — up from 1.4% Wednesday. New York’s other nine regions had a rate of 1.4% new virus cases and below Thursday.
“In Western New York, we have the caution flag out and we’re going to fly it a little higher today,” Cuomo said.
Eight new rapid testing sites with 50 total rapid testing machines will open across Western New York on Saturday. More machines may be deployed as needed.
“They are rapid testing sites, which means you get the results within an hour,” Cuomo said. “We’ll know the same day what’s happening so we don’t have a two- or three-day lag. We’ll have a snapshot of exactly what is going on.”
Sites will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays through Wednesdays. The testing sites will open in partnership with Kaleida Health, a network that operates five hospitals in the Buffalo area, Erie County Medical Center and Catholic Health.
All residents are eligible for tests. Call 833-NYSTRNG (833-697-8764) to schedule an appointment. Coronavirus tests are free of charge.
As of Thursday, 53 new COVID-19 cases originated from an outbreak at a food-processing plant in Chautauqua County, said Gareth Rhodes, a member of the state’s coronavirus task force and deputy superintendent and special counsel at the state Department of Financial Services.
“We’re also seeing cases [in Western New York] as a result of community spread,” Rhodes said.
The spike of coronavirus cases appeared in Western New York following a spread at two nursing homes, a steel factory, food-processing plant and farms after seasonal employees returned to work.