January 20, 2022

Don’t blame SUNY for virus spike

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

Masked up and ready for her final exam, SUNY Cortland student Lauren Bonura leaves her residence hall Monday. While a spike in COVID-19 cases in Tompkins County was blamed on college students, an increase in Cortland has not been attributed to the college.

SUNY Cortland senior Eli Perez has spent nearly half his college career adjusting to ever-changing COVID-19 regulations, including Gov. Kathy Hochul’s re-institution of a statewide mask mandate, which took effect Monday.

“The school is doing a pretty good job with handling the COVID situation, but compared to the summer when we were free and we didn’t have to worry about classroom habits, there’s definitely a difference that we need to be aware of and we need to be safe,” Perez said Monday.

Hochul announced Friday that masks will be required in indoor public places starting Monday, unless the business enacts a vaccine requirement. That lasts until Jan. 15, when it will be reviewed. Counties will be responsible for enforcement.

However, Cortland County Legislature Chairman Paul Heider (R-Cuyler, Solon, Truxton) said the county will not enforce the mandate, citing a shortage of resources.

“Right now, health department staff is focused on case investigations and contact tracing to stop the spread,” said Cortland County Public Health Director Nicole Anjeski said. “It is important for everyone to do their part in stopping the spread of COVID-19.”

The college already has, said Fred Pierce, the college’s director of communications. As of Sunday, SUNY Cortland has 13 active cases, and 92.5% of its student population is fully vaccinated.

About 54% of Cortland County’s entire population is completely vaccinated, state data show.

Also, while the governor re-instituted mask mandates, the college never let them lapse.

“The new state law on masking is that it’s required in all public, indoor locations, but that’s what we’ve been requiring on campuses since the semester began, so if you’re a student living on campus, your chances of getting sick or transmitting it are reduced,” Pierce said.

Of the 6,658 undergraduate and graduate students, about 200 have approved exemptions.

“They have to test every single week, and for everybody else we do random surveillance testing continually,” Pierce said. “So if vaccinated, testing happens probably once a month at least, maybe more.”

However, Cornell University and Ithaca College account for most of the 391 new positive COVID-19 cases in Tompkins County since Saturday.

“These cases are resulting from regular, everyday activity, and while we want things to get back to normal, we have to do what we know works to stop the spread,” Tompkins County Public Health Director Frank Kruppa said in a news release.

There are two confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in Tompkins County, however, Cortland County Public Health Director Nicole Anjeski said Monday there has not been a confirmed Omicron variant case yet in Cortland.

“There are still many unknowns about Omicron, but what we do know is that vaccination is still highly effective against the Delta variant,” Anjeski said.

“Getting children 5 years and older vaccinated can help protect them from getting COVID-19, this will also help to keep them in school and helps to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our community.”

Both Cortland and Tompkins said their contact tracers and case investigators are falling behind. Cortland has 229 active cases and 592 people being monitored; Tompkins County has 748 active cases and administered more than 2,000 tests Monday.

To keep the problem from getting worse at SUNY Cortland, Pierce said the college is encouraging students to get their booster shots before winter break ends.

“We’re stressing that it’s very important, and we’re trying to get as many students and staff to get boosted before they come back to campus,” Pierce said.

Until then, the students must still abide by state and local laws, and if people see large off-campus parties, they can call city police, Pierce said.

Although he is an off-campus student, Perez said he’s not interested in the party scene.

“Especially because of the COVID situation, but also I have asthma and I don’t want to put myself in a space where there’s a 100-plus people, because you never know,” Perez said.