October 19, 2021

College looks to increase COVID enforcement

Logo provided by SUNY Cortland

SUNY Cortland has disciplined 255 students for violations related to COVID-19 restrictions, but it is still looking to increase enforcement, a college spokesman said Friday.

SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras joined college President Erik Bitterbaum Monday to announce the college would switch to remote-only learning for two weeks, a “pause,” after the college exceeded 100 active cases of coronavirus during a two-week period.

Malatras and Bitterbaum said the infections were spreading most among offcampus students, but couldn’t say how they were clustering to spread the virus, except that it wasn’t from large parties, which was behind similar closures at SUNY Oswego and SUNY Oneonta.

Bitterbaum said Friday that communications have been sent out to students to encourage behavior that would prevent the spread of COVID-19, including only brief, off-campus travel. The college has seen 169 active cases in the two-week period between Sept. 26 and Friday and 306 since the semester began.

Fred Pierce, the college’s director of communications, said the college was looking to increase enforcement, but could not provide details as plans were still being worked out.

Bitterbaum said he was uncertain whether SUNY police would be involved in stepping up enforcement off campus, but that it would continue its current enforcement on-campus.

Mark DePaull, SUNY Cortland’s police chief, could not be reached for comment.

Bitterbaum also said that unlike other SUNY schools that saw large outbreaks, like SUNY Oneonta, the cases from Cortland haven’t been from large gatherings.

“Our sense is that they’re small gatherings but the students go from one small gathering to another,” Bitterbaum said. In particular, college leaders suspect the virus has come from students living on campus visiting those who live off campus.

Bitterbaum said students have been told to remain in their pods — oncampus students staying with other oncampus students, off-campus students staying with other off-campus students — to help prevent more cases.

The school is also encouraging oncampus students to stay on campus except for brief forays, such as groceries, and if they do get prepared food, to get it take-out, Bitterbaum said.

Additionally, students traveling offcampus are encouraged to travel in groups with six people or fewer, Pierce said.

Recent potential exposures in the city, including the Red Jug Pub and Garcia’s restaurant, tend to be places SUNY students frequent, but Bitterbaum said he wasn’t sure whether those exposures were connected to SUNY Cortland.

Still, some businesses, such as Bru 64 have responded to the school’s changes by reminding students to order takeout, only.

Off-campus students will be allowed on campus only for school-related work or jobs.

“It is a sacrifice but if we’re going to get these numbers down, that’s what it’ll require,” Bitterbaum said.

The school plans to ramp up surveillance testing next week, with more than 4,000 tests planned for next week and throughout the semester.