COVID-19: No Cortland cases; SUNY students can delay March moveout

As this CDC map depicts, New York is the state hardest hit by COVID-19 with more than 5,001 cases. CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION

As New York readies to take a state-directed “pause,” Cortland County had yet to record a coronavirus infection and SUNY Cortland told students they can delay coming back to campus to retrieve their belongings.

While the County expects a positive test result soon to commercial COVID-19 testing, Public Health Department Director Catherine Feuerherm noted there were no cases as of this afternoon.

“Still no positives,” Feuerherm said in an email. She urged residents to maintain hygiene and social distancing to prevent the spread of the new virus that can cause severe respiratory issues and death, especially in the elderly. Fewer people sickening and requiring hospitalization will mean less stress on our local hospital, Feuerherm noted.

“Our goal is to ensure that our local hospital has sufficient resources to meet the need by keeping people out of there,” she said. “Wash your hands. Stay home if you have that option. If not, keep six feet between you and the next person.”

There is no current treatment or vaccine for the COVID-19 virus and the best defense against the disease is to not contract the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SUNY Cortland is taking steps to lessen the potential of community spread of the virus.

Students received messages at 2:21 p.m. informing them they are not required to return to campus to retrieve items left behind when the students left the dorms on March 13 for Spring Break.

“In line with Gov Andrew Cuomo’s directive that people avoid any unnecessary travel, SUNY Cortland wants to assure students that they may delay returning to campus to retrieve belongings,” Fred Pierce, the college’s Communications Office director said. “Students who do not need items right away and do not wish to travel, or who are unable to travel to campus at this time, do NOT need to. We will keep their property safe and arrange for them to come to campus at a later date.”

Students were instructed not to completely move out of their dorms before they left for Spring Break in the first of many emails from the college on March 11, a few hours after Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered all SUNY and CUNY schools to move to online classes.

The March 11 email stated twice students should not completely pack up.

“Students living in residence halls do not need to take all of their belongings home prior to spring break,” wrote SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum. “Students leaving for break should not pack as if they are leaving for the semester.”

The letter goes on to state, “If students travel during the break, they may be subject to public health restrictions such as extended self-quarantine.”

Earlier on March 11, Cuomo issued orders posted to the SUNY system’s website that all instruction was to move to online classes for the rest of the semester.

“The Governor also announced the State University of New York and the City University of New York will implement plans to maximize distance learning and reduce in-person classes, beginning March 19th, for the remainder of the Spring semester in light of the evolving novel coronavirus situation in New York,” the press release reads.

SUNY's response

But SUNY Cortland told students the day after Cuomo’s announcement the college planned for students to return on April 11 and resume on-campus classes on April 13.

A timeline email sent by Provost Mark Prus at 1:08 p.m. on March 12 provided the following schedule: “April 11 … Students may return to campus housing/ April 13...All classes resume on campus at the earliest.”

Pierce explained in an email this afternoon the college was still waiting for clarification from SUNY administration regarding whether or not the online instruction would be for the entire rest of the semester when students left for break.

“SUNY Cortland, like many public schools and other colleges such as SUNY Geneseo and SUNY Oswego, had initially been advised that distance learning for a period of weeks would likely be sufficient to slow the spread of the virus enough to allow us to re-open,” Pierce wrote. “That’s why we developed a plan for campus to return to face-to-face instruction April 13, which would not require students to completely move out of their rooms when leaving for spring break.”

At 5:26 p.m. Wednesday, SUNY Cortland announced to students in an email it would not resume in-person classes, but conduct online classes only for the rest of the semester.

Taking precautions

In its website’s moving-out instructions, SUNY Cortland notes “you are expected to vacate your room or apartment by Sunday, March 29.” Move-out begins March 21, but students are required to sign up for a day and time slot, according to the website. SUNY is not allowing more than 50 students in a building at one time, the website notes.

Those who do not wish to travel or cannot travel are to call the college’s Residence Life and Housing between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. and make other arrangements.

SUNY Cortland is taking special precautions to limit the potential of COVID-19 spread as students move out. 

“We are doing everything we can to minimize the risk of exposure while allowing students who need to recover their belongings to do so,” Pierce wrote this afternoon. “That is why we are doing scheduled move-outs for every student who wishes to return to retrieve belongings, and spreading it out over nine days instead of a single weekend.”

The college is also asking families to remain in their vehicles until it is their turn to enter the dormitories and apartments, and asking essential staff and students not to touch.

Feuerherm endorsed SUNY’s plan to limit COVID-19 spread as much as possible.

“I believe SUNY Cortland has a well thought out plan that staggers traffic to minimize exposure,” she stated. “We trust them to get this done in the safest manner.”