Data: 1 in 7 SUNY Cortland students COVID positive since fall

Students are thanked with a cookie this afternoon by SUNY Cortland President Eric Bitterbaum (right) after submitting for their second COVID-19 test of the week/SUNY CORTLAND




Disclaimer: To be fully transparent, Sarah Bullock is a freelance reporter and a graduate student at SUNY Cortland. 



University data shows an estimated one in seven SUNY Cortland students have contracted COVID-19 since the beginning of the academic year.

That’s a rate three times greater than the average SUNY-wide rate, seven times greater than the SUNY Oswego rate and more than twice as much as SUNY Oneonta’s rate, according to state data.

And while the college data cannot be directly compared to County numbers, an analysis of County Health Department data appears to indicate the rate is far greater — perhaps as much as twice the average infection rate in the surrounding community.  

SUNY Cortland has the worst COVID-19 numbers in the state system, confirmed Director of Communications Fred Pierce this afternoon.

“We’re kinda nervous and waiting,” said Pierce about the college’s COVID case numbers in a phone interview, adding the college is complying with all state Health Department and SUNY requirements. “You only need one case to start a wildfire.”

SUNY Cortland fell under increased scrutiny this week after city and university police broke up a college party with more than 75 guests just after midnight on Saturday at 70 Tompkins St. Afterward, SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras told SUNY Cortland to test all students twice a week for two weeks and the college is complying, said Pierce.

While Cortland students account for only 1.6 percent of all the students enrolled in the state-wide, 64-college SUNY system, SUNY Cortland students currently make-up 7.9 percent of all the current positive cases in the State University of New York, according to SUNY data.

Since the fall, an estimated total 982 of SUNY Cortland’s 6,832 enrolled students were infected with COVID-19, according to SUNY’s COVID-19 tracker and the college’s public enrollment data. Throughout the SUNY system there have been an estimated total of 10,743 cases, data shows. That means SUNY Cortland accounts for 9 percent of all of SUNY’s COVID-19 cases since the academic year began.

The SUNY COVID-19 tracker offers information both for the total number of cases since Aug. 28 — when the fall semester started — and in two-week increments. Since the fall, SUNY Cortland students have contracted COVID-19 at a rate of 1.88 percent. During that time the total SUNY-system student body has contracted the illness at a rate of 0.52 percent. 

Since Saturday — the beginning of the new two-week window — SUNY Cortland students had 50 positive cases and the entire college system had a total 635. That’s 7.9 percent of all SUNY cases occurring among SUNY Cortland students.

It is not possible to make a direct comparison between SUNY Cortland data and Cortland County Health Department data as students are part of the County population and as the Health Department is tracking the total number of cases since the start of the pandemic rather than in the current academic year.

But when comparing SUNY Cortland’s numbers to the similarly-sized SUNY Oswego and SUNY Oneonta, SUNY Cortland’s COVID-19 numbers are seven times greater than Oswego’s total infected student body and more than twice Oneonta’s infection percentage. SUNY Oswego saw 2.7 percent of its 7,986 students become infected since the fall, or 220 pupils. SUNY Oneonta saw 6.1 percent of its 6,543 students contract COVID-19, or 400 pupils.

“We are in a very frustrated place,” said Pierce this afternoon, “because we have not been able to identify any substantial thing that we are not doing that others are doing.”

SUNY system consequences for students enacted in the Spring are steep and SUNY Cortland had already increased testing from last semester’s pre- and post-arrival tests to weekly testing of the entire student body, Pierce noted. In the fall, more than 120 students were suspended over COVID-19 restriction violations and three students were expelled, he said.

“That’s more suspensions in one semester than we’ve had in years, combined,” Pierce said. “Our approach and our determination to hold students accountable hasn’t changed since last semester.”

While SUNY Cortland has the worst COVID numbers of the state colleges, so far no students were seriously ill or hospitalized, he said.

“We’ve been very lucky,” said Pierce. “The vast majority of students have been asymptomatic or had minor symptoms.”

While a smaller percentage of County residents have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic a year ago, there have been six hospitalized local patients and 61 deaths so far, according to County Health Department and Census Bureau data. The COVID data — which is counted continuously and began at the first County diagnosis last year — shows that 3,554 of the County’s 47,581 residents have tested positive for COVID-19. That’s 7.5 percent of the County population.







Disclaimer: To be fully transparent, Sarah Bullock is a freelance reporter and a graduate student at SUNY Cortland.