SUNY Adopts System-Wide Policy Requiring All On-Campus Students to Test Negative for COVID-19 Prior to Thanksgiving Break

October 27, 2020

Most Campuses Transitioning to Fully Remote to End the Semester After Thanksgiving, Policy Aimed to Prevent Potential COVID-19 Community Spread

Policy Developed, Reviewed, and Approved by Public Health Experts

Read the full SUNY Testing Policy for Departing Campus in Fall 2020

Albany, NY
– As colleges and universities prepare to wind down in-person classes and activities ahead of Thanksgiving, State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras today announced that SUNY has adopted a policy mandating all students using on-campus facilities in any capacity test negative for COVID-19 within the 10 days prior to leaving campus. Campuses must develop schedules that conduct the test as close to a student's departure date as possible. That means SUNY's 64 colleges and universities will test about 140,000 students over a 10-day period preceding Thanksgiving break. With COVID-19 cases reaching record highs nationwide, this testing requirement will help prevent community spread as students return to their hometowns. Colleges and universities must submit a plan to test all of their on-campus students within that 10-day window no later than November 5.

"As in-person classes and instruction come to a close next month, tens of thousands of students will travel across the state and country to be with their families and complete their fall courses remotely," said Chancellor Malatras. "By requiring all students to test negative before leaving, we are implementing a smart, sensible policy that protects students' families and hometown communities and drastically reduces the chances of COVID-19 community spread. While we understand there is a lot of focus on plans for the spring semester, we must first finish this semester safely. I want to thank our students for the phenomenal effort during these difficult times as well as SUNY health policy experts for helping us create this guidance that ensures a safe wind down of the fall semester."

In accordance with previously-approved fall semester plans, most SUNY colleges and universities are set to shift to 100 percent remote learning after Thanksgiving, with residential facilities shutting down, barring exceptions for students with extenuating circumstances. This new testing mandate is designed to ensure that transition happens safely.

All students who are taking at least one class on campus; utilizing on-campus services such as the gym, library, or dining hall; or working on campus must test negative for COVID-19 within 10 days prior to their college closing on-campus instruction and services. Antibody tests do not count toward this requirement.

Taking into account the time it takes for results to return, colleges should schedule tests as close as possible to students' departure date. They should also consider allowing residential students to leave campus the moment they receive a negative test.

Colleges are advised to repeatedly and emphatically reinforce that students should strictly limit contact, wear masks, and practice social distancing between the time they take their test and the time they leave campus. This will greatly reduce chances of any new exposure to the new virus.

Non-residential students who test positive or who are exposed to COVID-19 must follow the strict quarantine and isolation guidance from the county health department. 

Colleges and universities that currently require weekly pooled surveillance testing for every student can apply to have their preexisting policy fulfill this new requirement.

Colleges must work with their county health department to isolate or quarantine any residential student who tests positive for COVID-19 or is exposed to COVID-19 within 14 days of the closing of the fall semester. They must be fully attendant to students' varying needs throughout these quarantine and isolation periods.

Pursuant to agreements with UUP, PEF, CSEA, and the PBA, SUNY strongly recommends that all faculty and staff are tested within this same period.

The policy was reviewed and approved by public health experts including:

  • Dr. David R. Holtgrave, Dean, School of Public Health, University at Albany
  • Dr. Christopher Morley, Chair, Department of Public Health & Preventative Medicine, Upstate Medical University
  • Dr. Eli Rosenberg, Associate Professor, Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics, University at Albany
  • Dr. Stephen Thomas, Chief of Infectious Disease, Upstate Medical University

Since the beginning of the fall semester, SUNY Colleges and Universities have tested more than 270,000 students with a positivity rate of 0.52 percent. System-wide cases continue to trend downward. The rolling 7-day positivity rate is 0.32 percent, and the rolling 14-day positivity rate is 0.33 percent. This data is easily accessible on SUNY's COVID-19 Case Tracker.

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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