Negative tests before holiday break

A photo of the SUNY headquarters in Albany. SUNY/Tribune News Service

All on-campus State University of New York 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 statement from SUNY on Tuesday.

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 systemwide 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.

Columbia-Greene Community College does not have on-campus dormitories or housing, so the requirement does not apply, but Jaclyn Stevenson, the college’s director of marketing and communications, said C-GCC continues to regularly test students taking on-campus courses — for hands-on classes such as nursing and automotive technology labs — including testing days scheduled for Nov. 9 and 10 and Nov. 23 and 24 before Thanksgiving.

“On-campus faculty and staff are also being tested on the same schedule. Testing will continue after the Thanksgiving break on Dec. 7 and 8,” Stevenson said. “We will continue to emphasize the detailed monitoring and cleaning protocols we have in place on campus to keep our students both safe and informed.”

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

All students who are taking at least one class on campus, utilizing on-campus services such as the gym, library or dining hall or working on campus must test negative for COVID-19 within 10 days prior to their college closing on-campus instruction and services. Antibody tests do not count toward this requirement.

The Capital Region campus has ramped up testing capacity to start weekly testing all on-campus students, faculty and staff starting Nov. 1, SUNY Albany spokesman Jordan Carleo-Evangelist said.

The university has about 11,500 regular students who live on campus, off-campus students who attend at least one in-person class, faculty and staff on site this semester.

The college has conducted more than 14,300 pooled saliva tests since Sept. 1, with an estimated in-house positivity rate of about 0.5% to date.

“Our plan is keep testing more and more frequently and that’s consistent with the guidance that SUNY issued today,” Carleo-Evangelist said. “Our saliva surveillance testing will help us get everybody tested, because the more information you have, the better off you are. Every single asymptomatic infection we identify, you’re reducing the number of downstream infections considerably.”

SUNY Albany’s final exams will take place remotely after Thanksgiving break. Residence halls will close after the week of Nov. 24.

Students who test positive for the coronavirus before the holiday will isolate in the university’s designated quarantine housing in Liberty Terrace Apartments, which is part of the Washington Avenue campus.

Weekly testing of on-campus students, faculty and staff will continue next semester.

“On-campus staff and faculty will come and go, but spring semester will be the next time everybody sort of convenes in a large way,” Carleo-Evangelist said. “Whatever the public health situation requires, we’ll be prepared to do.”

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%. Systemwide 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/

*Editor’s note: This story corrects an earlier version. The SUNY system uses pooled, not rapid, diagnostic COVID-19 tests, and UAlbany’s Liberty Terrace Apartments are located on campus.

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