October 18, 2021

SUNY, Guthrie almost completely vaccinated

College: 98% have at least one shot; Guthrie: 97% compliant

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

Zak Judson, of Elmira, a junior at SUNY Cortland, returns a volley Tuesday in a tennis class on the college’s West Campus. Nearly 90% of the college’s students are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and 98% have had at least one shot.

Nearly all students at SUNY Cortland and staff at Guthrie Cortland Medical Center have been vaccinated
against COVID-19, following vaccine mandates implemented this year.

At SUNY Cortland, 89% of students have been fully vaccinated and verified as such, college Communications Director Fred Pierce said Tuesday. Additionally, 98% of students had at least one shot or were waiting for the two-week period after the second shot to be considered fully vaccinated.

About 6,300 students are enrolled for in-person classes this year or will be coming to campus, Pierce has said. Only 59 are now at risk of being deregistered, he said Monday.

It was a no-brainer for Zak Judson, of Elmira, a junior, after he swatted tennis balls back and forth in a physical education class on the college’s West Campus.

“My whole family did,” Judson said. “I got it as soon as I moved back home last spring.”

“I’m just very pleased that they are as highly vaccinated as they are,” said SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum. “We know that they are protected and will be able to continue their education across the college.”

The college originally set a deadline that all non-exempt students must be fully vaccinated by Monday
or face deregistration. However, Bitterbaum said Tuesday that late last week, SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras, following state guidance from the state, allowed campuses some leeway to allow students to verify their vaccination status.

Bitterbaum said no date has been set.

SUNY and state officials “thought by having a little more time, we will be a little more successful” in getting everyone vaccinated, he said.

College staff will call and write non-exempt students this week who haven’t reported their vaccination
status, Bitterbaum said. If they don’t respond by the end of the week, they will likely be deregistered.

Guthrie, which also had a Monday deadline for all employees to receive their first COVID-19 vaccination, also has nearly all of its non-exempt workers vaccinated, the health group reported Monday.

Across the Guthrie health system network, 97% of staff and 100% of its physicians met that deadline, a trend Guthrie officials said Cortland’s facilities mirrored.

“By putting this requirement in place, we took an important step to ensure patient safety and protect
our colleagues on the front lines of care,” Dr. Edmund Sabanegh, the president and CEO of Guthrie, said in a release. “Vaccination is the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and death.”

Employees who did not meet the requirement will face a week-long suspension, which was implemented Monday.

During that time, they will not be scheduled to work and will have an extra week to receive their first dose or provide an approved exemption.

“COVID has impacted staffing across the country, but the health care vaccination programs are not the cause,” Sabanegh said Tuesday. “Guthrie has had minimal changes in our staffing related to the vaccination requirement, as our caregivers have stepped up to meet the program requirements, placing patient safety first.”

The stresses of COVID care have accelerated retirements, however, and caused some staff to leave healthcare entirely, he said. Vaccine mandates across the state for healthcare facilities and nursing homes could lead to an even greater shortage of health workers, said Ariel Avgar, an associate professor at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

“The staffing implications of the vaccine mandate for health care workers needs to be understood in the context of existing shortages in the health care system,” he said. “As with other dimensions of the pandemic, this effort to reduce infections through mandates highlights and exacerbates already existing recruitment and retention challenges throughout the state’s health care system.”

He continued by saying that over the course of the pandemic, many areas in healthcare have been pushed to the brink.

“The possibility of having even fewer healthcare professionals available to meet the system’s needs is, I’m sure, a daunting prospect for health care administrators,” he said.

Administrators will need to focus on both short- and longterm solutions, Avgar said, including how to best leverage employees for now, and how to increase the number of healthcare workers in the future.
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Managing Editor Todd R. McAdam contributed to this report.