Cuomo sends SWAT team to SUNY Oneonta to contain COVID-19 cluster

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo deployed a SWAT team to the State University of New York College at Oneonta to help contain a surge in coronavirus cases that developed at the school.

The state team will include 71 contact tracers and eight case investigators, Cuomo announced Sunday.

In an effort to control the outbreak, New York state will also open three free, rapid-testing sites in the city of Oneonta that will be open to all city residents by appointment.

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The cases of the virus began to emerge last week when the university officially welcomed undergraduate students back for the fall semester. Since then, SUNY Oneonta’s total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has reached 105, representing 3% of the faculty, staff and students who are on campus or using campus facilities, according to university officials.

“Colleges are the canary in the coal mine, and a 3 percent infection rate is high in a congregate situation, similar to a dense urban environment where you have people taking public transportation,” Cuomo said. “That’s why we’re deploying state resources to contain the new COVID cluster at SUNY Oneonta,”

To further help address the rise in cases, SUNY chancellor Jim Malatras announced a two-week suspension of in-person instruction at the SUNY Oneonta campus. The suspension will be in effect through Sept. 13, per Cuomo’s state guidelines.

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Cuomo commended Malatras for his actions saying, “the chancellor is doing the exact right thing at Oneonta and I think he’s taking the right actions across SUNY, and I think the private colleges should really follow the example.”

Malatras’ directive aligns with Cuomo’s Aug. 27 directive regarding mitigation actions colleges must take if their COVID-19 infection rate rises above a certain level.

Per the governor’s guidelines, colleges must shift to remote learning and suspend in-person campus activities for two weeks once they reach 100 confirmed COVID-19 cases or an outbreak equaling 5% of the population.

If a school hits that mark, it is required to return to remote learning with limited on-campus activity for two weeks while the situation is evaluated by health officials. If the local health department finds the college cannot contain the outbreak even after the two-week period, the school may be required to continue remote learning or officials may impose other mitigation measures in consultation with the state health department.

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If the clusters of positive cases emerge on particular areas of a campus while still below 5% or under 100 students, but “strain the college’s ability to isolate and contact trace,” the college has to shift to 100% distance learning “with limited on-campus activity,” the guidelines state.

While a school tries to contain an outbreak, “athletic activities and other extracurricular activities must be suspended, and dining hall options must move to take-out only,” according to the guidelines.

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