December 6, 2021

SUNY students set to return

Negative virus status needed to show up followed by weekly tests

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Santo Mironti, owner of New York Bagel and Deli in Cortland, makes a sandwich Thursday. His shop is a popular place for SUNY Cortland students, who return amid a pandemic. However, half the college’s residence hall rooms will be vacant as students stay home for the semester.

As SUNY Cortland prepares to start another semester in a little over a week, don’t be surprised if you see fewer students around the city because the pandemic has shifted priorities for students, SUNY officials said this week.

Only about half of the campus’s 3,200 residence hall rooms, which open Wednesday, will be occupied this semester, President Erik Bitterbaum said Thursday.

More students are staying at home and taking classes remotely. Other students are taking a semester off due to financial burdens, Fred Pierce, the college’s director of communications, said Tuesday at a Cortland Common Council meeting.

All students must submit a negative COVID test no more than a week before they return to campus for the spring semester, according to the college’s website.

Once on campus, students, faculty and staff will be required to participate in surveillance testing weekly through pool testing administered through Upstate Medical University in Syracuse.

“To keep our community safe, it’s the right thing to do,” Bitterbaum said.

Reflecting on the previous semester, Bitterbaum said he was generally proud of how students and staff adjusted to the shifts brought on by the pandemic — including going fully remote from November until the end of the semester in December — and that no transmissions of the virus were caused in classrooms.

This was in part through classrooms set up with computer-aided design software to allow for maximum spacing, the installation of Plexiglass panels and the roughly 20,000 reusable masks provided to students and staff.

Positive cases that did occur tended to be from off-campus sources, Bitterbaum said. The college suspended more than 100 students until next fall for violating the college’s coronavirus regulations.

While the college can enforce its guidelines, Bitterbaum said responsibility ultimately falls to the students.

“We ask them to think how they can keep themselves safe and their neighbors,” he said.

Sandro Mironti, the owner of New York Bagel and Deli on Main Street in Cortland, said the return of students, even if reduced, can present both benefits and challenges.

On one hand, it helps businesses like his economically, but can present problems if students don’t follow COVID guidelines.

“I see it as a double-edged sword,” he said. “It’s a ghost town if they’re not here but we’re taking the risk if they come back.”

The restaurant both employs college students and is a popular eatery for the students.

Mironti said the potential spread of COVID-19 when students return will depend both on how well the students follow health and safety guidelines and how well the businesses do, too.

“We all have responsibility,” he said. “We all have a stake in this.”