Chancellor Malatras and President Bitterbaum Announce SUNY Upstate Medical to Conduct Pooled and Wastewater Testing for COVID-19 at SUNY Cortland following Uptick in COVID Cases

September 13, 2020

Athletics and Greek Life Activities Suspended Indefinitely Until Cases Decline

Tompkins Cortland Community College Resumes In-Person Classes This Week Following Two Week Pause That Successfully Controlled Virus

Cortland, NY – State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras and President Erik J. Bitterbaum today announced that SUNY Cortland will conduct pooled surveillance testing to at least 1,000 students weekly and double the frequency of wastewater testing for COVID-19 to effectively pinpoint and contain the virus and prevent outbreaks on campus. SUNY Cortland will use SUNY Upstate Medical's testing program.

Given an uptick in cases is being driven by off-campus gatherings, Cortland is also suspending athletics and Greek Life indefinitely until cases decline.

Chancellor Malatras also announced the resumption of in-person classes at Tompkins Cortland Community College following a successful, two-week pause that prevented a major uptick in COVID cases on campus. This quick, decisive action taken on September 2 stopped at least one student who later tested positive for the virus from attending classes. Additional testing will be conducted on campus on Monday.

"I want to thank SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum for continuing to build on Cortland's comprehensive, evidence-based COVID-19 mitigation and response plan," said Chancellor Malatras. "Increased testing frequency done in tandem with strict, consistent enforcement and data-driven decision making is the right, three-pronged strategy for keeping cases down and campuses open. I also want to applaud TC3 President Orinthia Montague for leading her campus through a successful, two-week pause of in-person learning. TC3 prevented a major outbreak in cases with swift and prudent action—and can now resume in-person learning this week. It's proof that if we monitor cases closely, respond with proactive, urgent action, and achieve campus-wide compliance with safety protocols, we can control this virus."

SUNY Cortland President Bitterbaum said, "We appreciated the opportunity to share our plans for combatting the COVID-19 virus and Chancellor Malatras' support of our efforts. This is a challenging time for all SUNY campuses and communities, and we are pleased to be part of a unified approach."

Tompkins Community College President Orinthia T. Montague said, "Our plan was to be proactive in identifying cases in our campus community. We were able to find a small number of asymptomatic cases, which allowed us to work with the county health department to isolate those students and stop the spread. Our move to increase testing in partnership with Cayuga Health System gives us the confidence that we will be able to continue our in-person learning without any negative effects on the community. We appreciate the support and leadership shown by SUNY Chancellor Malatras in aggressively protecting the safety of our students and communities through the SUNY system."

S. Representative Anthony Brindisi said, "Accurate, affordable, and efficient testing will be key to safely and responsibly re-opening our colleges. I commend Governor Cuomo and Chancellor Malatras for today's announcement and am hopeful that students will be able to safely return to school. New York State has sacrificed so much. As we try to return to a sense of normal while we still fight back against COVID-19, testing initiatives like this will help us do just that. I'll continue to fight for more resources at the federal level for our schools, hospitals, state, and local governments."

Senator James L. Seward said, "SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum has been extremely proactive in preparing the Cortland campus to educate students safely in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Working with SUNY Chancellor Malatras to increase testing and vigilance will add another level of security and peace of mind for students, staff, and the surrounding community."

SUNY Cortland can expand its testing frequency on campus thanks to a series of major breakthroughs in testing driven by SUNY Upstate Medical University.

SUNY Upstate Medical University Interim President Mantosh Dewan, MD said, "Keeping our students, campuses, and communities safe is of the utmost importance, and SUNY Upstate Medical University is grateful to be a part of that process. We thank SUNY Chancellor Malatras, the Department of Health, and others who have been instrumental in advancing this rapid testing protocol. Upstate stands ready to be of continued service to the state in managing this pandemic."

Last month, the New York State Department of Health granted SUNY approval to conduct pooled surveillance testing for COVID-19. The testing methodology – developed by Upstate Medical – allows for 10-25 people to be screened as part of one test. Their samples are combined into one, which is tested for SARS-CoV-2 virus. A negative test means that all 10-25 people in the group are presumed at the time to be coronavirus-free. A positive test for the pool would mean each individual saliva sample within the pool would need to be tested again individually to pinpoint exact positive cases.

On September 1, the Department of Health approved Upstate Medical's individual saliva diagnostic test. The cost-effective and rapid screening can analyze more than 15,000 samples per day at Upstate Medical's Neuroscience Research Building, in collaboration with Quadrant Biosciences—a Start-Up NY company supported by the state with key tax incentives.

Thanks to these advancements and the securing of five new COVID-19 testing machines for Upstate Medical, SUNY can now process more than 120,000 COVID-19 tests per week.

The University at Albany is also administering an in-house pooled surveillance testing program developed collaboratively by a team of scientists from UAlbany's RNA Institute and School of Public Health.

About the State University of New York
The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the country’s oldest school of maritime, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.4 million students amongst its entire portfolio of credit- and non-credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2023, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunities, visit

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