ICYMI: Chancellor Malatras Writes an Op-Ed for NY Daily News on What SUNY is Doing to Ensure a Safe Return for Thanksgiving

November 17, 2020

Albany, NY – In an op-ed published today by NY Daily News, State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras writes about SUNY’s mandatory COVID-19 policy to test students on campus before the Thanksgiving holiday to help ensure a safe return home.

Read the Chancellors’ op-ed here

Don’t bring COVID home for Thanksgiving

We all want it to be over. You see it everywhere. COVID fatigue has set in. But as we’ve too often seen, the trajectory of this virus can change in a heartbeat, and the nation is experiencing record-high numbers of cases as the Thanksgiving holiday is quickly approaching.

In recent weeks, the Centers for Disease Control has issued several warnings about the risks involved with holiday travel and ensuing family-style gatherings. These gatherings are accelerants to COVID fires burning stronger by the day.

We must overcome our COVID fatigue and continue to be vigilant. At America’s largest comprehensive system of public higher education — SUNY — it’s like running a small state. Yet we’ve taken an aggressive approach to keep the virus at bay this semester with mandatory regular testing of students, faculty and staff; uniform compliance rules; unprecedented public transparency; and enhanced student support, like mental health and wellness services.

Recently, we took another step announcing that we will test every student — approximately 140,000 — for COVID-19 prior to their departure from campus for the Thanksgiving break. We’ll then transition to remote learning for the remaining few weeks of the semester to limit the potential spread of the virus.

Students who test negative go home with peace of mind knowing that they are not carrying a virus that could endanger a loved one over the holiday. The mandated test also reassures communities that returning students are not bringing COVID-19 home with them. We know that one or two infected people reentering a community can be enough to spark a major surge in cases.

Despite widespread support from students, a handful of people have criticized these measures — some with a misunderstanding of what the policy is, or worse, baseless accusations designed solely to manufacture controversy. Some argued that the policy infringes on students' rights, while others went even further and accused SUNY of attempting to “imprison students” or “hold students hostage.” None of it is true.

As is already required by state health law, any person who tests positive for COVID-19 must isolate for 14 days. Campuses must work with local health departments on how and where students will isolate. But given that some students may not have alternatives over the Thanksgiving holiday, we’ve required every SUNY campus to offer isolation space, and staff will remain on location to attend to any needs. We have an obligation to help those students in need.

The majority of SUNY students are already submitting to regular surveillance testing. Our colleges and universities have completed about 450,000 tests this fall — more than some states — with virtually no pushback. Our students understand that small sacrifices can bend the curve. Why now would they suddenly object to taking an easy saliva test that will protect those closest to them?

As we prepare for the Thanksgiving break, we must also ready for what waits around the bend. SUNY students are determined to resume in-person learning in 2021, and they know another wave of the virus resembling March and April infection rates certainly reduces their chances of a successful spring restart.

In visits to nearly 40 of our 64 colleges since August, students have repeatedly told me that testing regularly is a tiny price to pay for in-person learning on the campuses they love. And we believe that our robust spring plan — which includes required testing ahead of the semester, no spring break and a Feb. 1 in-person start date — gives us the best chance to do just that.

It helps, too, to acknowledge how far we have come. Rewind to March and imagine a college system testing 140,000 students over 10 days when states had nowhere near that capacity. Thanks to SUNY Upstate Medical’s groundbreaking, FDA-approved saliva test, what was very recently unfathomable has become our policy. It’s yet another valuable component to our multi-pronged approach to containing COVID — a strategy steeped in trusting science, acting prudently, and looking out for one another.

We’re all sick and tired of being sick and tired of dealing with COVID, but we must play the cards we’re dealt. We have learned that whether the virus spikes or stabilizes is largely dependent on our actions.

Students at the State University of New York stand ready to meet the continued challenge. Too often college students have received a bad rap for their behavior and spreading the virus. No doubt there have been students, including a few of ours, who have violated the rules that increased the spread. But overall, the vast majority of our students are doing the right thing and want to be a part of the solution, as opposed to being a part of the problem. SUNY’s mandatory Thanksgiving testing policy is part of the solution.

The opinion piece follows an announcement from Chancellor Malatras about mandatory testing before SUNY students return home for Thanksgiving.

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, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. As of Fall 2019, more than 415,500 students were enrolled in a degree-granting program at a SUNY campus. In total, SUNY serves about 1.3 million students in 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 exceeded $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2019, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are 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 opportunity, visit suny.edu.


Share this:

       

 
Contact:
Holly Liapis
518-320-1311
Email the Office of Communications