December 5, 2021

SUNY Cortland COVID cases bring chance of online-only classes

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Masked students cross campus Tuesday at sUNY Cortland. The college recorded more than 80 cases of COVID19 in a two-week period, coming close to a 100-case limit before having to move to remote learning. It’s on page to approach that limit again.

Following a two-week period in which SUNY Cortland reported 81 cases of COVID-19, reaching close to a 100-case limit that would force the school to revert to remote learning, the college is ready to do it.

However, president Erik Bitterbaum said closing the campus would not have as big an effect on the college and students as closing last spring, the first time it canceled in-person classes.

State Department of Health guidelines would cancel in-person classes if 100 people on campus test positive for coronavirus in a two-week period. The shutdown, which would mean remote classes and suspended non-essential services, would be for two weeks.

Following that, the county’s health department, in conjunction with the state’s Department of Health, would evaluate the school’s effort to contain the spread before allowing in-person classes to resume or implementing other measures to contain the virus.

“I hope it doesn’t get to that point but I think they’re capable of doing it,” said Tim Zorn, a freshman from Long Island. “In the case of what is going on, I think they are doing everything they can to prepare for that situation. So as much as we may not like it, I think they’ll be ready for us if it does get to that situation.”

The 6,800-student college reported 81 cases between Sept. 12 and 25. By comparison, Cornell University reported nine cases among its 24,000 students in the same period.

The latest two-week period goes from Sept. 26 to Oct. 9, according to SUNY Cortland’s Covid tracker. Positive cases counting toward that 100 mark stood at 18 this morning. Cornell was at one case toward its limit; Tompkins Cortland Community College hasn’t reported a case since Sept. 2.

Following two weeks, that number will reset to 0. Neither Bitterbaum nor Fred Pierce, the director of communications, said they knew why the state guidelines started fresh every two weeks rather than a rolling two-week tally.

“We’re just trying our best to follow the rules,” Bitterbaum said.

Testing has stepped up since the return to classes as the college has been trying to test 1,000 people a week, Bitterbaum said. Testing is mandatory.

A change in teaching classes, however, may not be as big as one might think with the majority of students taking classes remotely, Bitterbaum said.

“Only about 40% of our classes are in-person,” Bitterbaum said.

Should the 100-case mark be reached, the college would return to a state like March — though all students living on campus would be required to stay on campus.

Off-campus students could leave and return to their homes, but the school is discouraging that, Pierce said.

At first, Zorn wasn’t sure how long in-person classes would continue at SUNY Cortland following large outbreaks at other schools like SUNY Oneonta, where 690 students have tested positive since the start of the semester, almost all in the first couple of weeks. Two students have been suspended for not following social distancing.

At Cortland, however, following two weeks of increased testing, mandatory masks, reduced visits to other residence halls and other measures, Zorn thinks students can remain vigilant.

“I think we’re showing that if we can follow the rules, we can definitely get through it,” he said.

Editor’s note: This report’s headline was updated to better reflect the trend in cases.