October 16, 2021

Virus spike at SUNY

University officials attribute it to increased testing

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Students walk through pouring rain Thursday near SUNY Cortland’s Student Life Center. College officials attribute a recent spike of COVID-19 cases to increased testing, but said they expect a decline as the school’s vaccine mandate takes effect.

A recent spike of COVID-19 cases at SUNY Cortland is a function of expanded testing and the numbers are expected to drop, college officials said Thursday.

President Erik Bitterbaum issued a statement this week saying the college saw more positive cases this year than at this point in 2020.

“While that sounds concerning, we believe the positive cases are a function of thorough pre-arrival testing, arrival testing and the weekly testing of students more at risk for contracting COVID-19, including all medically and religious exempt students as well as those awaiting fully vaccinated status two weeks after their final vaccine dose,” Bitterbaum said.

As of Thursday, there have been 103 estimated positive cases with a positivity percentage of 6.2%, according to the rolling 14-day student statistic on the SUNY COVID-19 Case Tracker. Another four cases were reported among non-students.

Bitterbaum and Fred Pierce, the college’s communications director, noted that the number of positive cases have been declining over the past week.

The rolling seven-day student statistic had 37 positive cases for a positivity rate of 2.7% and the rolling three-day student statistic was six positive cases with a positivity rate of 0.61%.

Pierce noted the spike in numbers early in the semester was because of required testing upon arrival for all students and weekly testing following. Students who are not yet fully vaccinated or who have not completed their online verification status have to be tested weekly, he said.

Fully vaccinated students are tested, too, though the timing is more random. Faculty and staff are tested once every two weeks.

“I would encourage people not to get too panicky because we are testing,” Pierce said.

New this year, all students are required to be fully vaccinated and must submit verification that they have been fully vaccinated by Monday, according to the school’s website.

As of Thursday, Pierce said about 86% of the school’s roughly 6,500 students who are learning in-person have completed their verification that they are fully vaccinated.

Bitterbaum said as well that student contact with the larger Cortland population may have had an effect in the early spike considering the lower vaccination rate.

According to the state COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker, 50.4% of Cortland County’s population — 24,125 — have been fully vaccinated.

Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin said that rising case numbers over the past two weeks did not factor into the Common Council’s decision to move its bi-monthly meetings back to Zoom after being in-person over the summer.

Rather, the change came as state positive cases were increasing and the city was legally able to.

“For people to point at any one group and cast blame, it’s not fair,” Tobin said.

He noted the college has been aggressively targeting the spread, thanks in part to its vaccine mandate.

Preventing the spread of COVID, though, starts with how people are protecting themselves and others around them.

“The focus cannot be on what other people are doing,” he said. “We have to focus on what we’re doing ourselves.”