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College students return next week to classes, intensive COVID-19 testing

Students at Molloy College in Rockville Centre arrived

Students at Molloy College in Rockville Centre arrived at campus for moving-in day Sunday. Some spoke with Newsday's Steve Langford about coming there 4 months later than expected. Credit: James Carbone

College students can anticipate a spring semester still shadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, with canceled spring breaks, intensified testing for COVID-19, and for some, delays on getting back onto campus.

Students will start to return to dorm residences and then classrooms as early as this week, with instruction to continue with the mix of remote, hybrid and in-person formats put in place last fall. And they will face continued admonishments to follow rules on mask-wearing, hand-washing, surveillance testing, health screens and other safe practices as the pace and availability of vaccinations gathers momentum.

"The safety protocols have been put in place and must be adhered to at all times, both indoors and outside, of anyone on campus," said Eugene Palma, Adelphi University’s chief administrative officer and associate vice president. He added the university in Garden City would "look forward to getting the Adelphi community vaccinated as soon as New York State permits."

While rates of COVID-19 remained relatively low last fall on many campuses, the community transmission rate on Long Island is now higher than it has been since early May, after the initial heights of the pandemic’s outbreak in New York. In March, most colleges closed campuses and sent students home to finish the spring semester with remote instruction.

Dr. K.C. Rondello, a professor at Adelphi’s College of Nursing and Public Health, said the school’s surveillance and mitigation practices had kept on-campus infection rates low in the fall, but it would "implement additional protective actions if deemed necessary" to protect the school community.

More testing, delayed starts at SUNYs

The SUNY system delayed the start of in-person spring semester classes by a week to Feb. 1 for most campuses including Stony Brook and Albany. However, at Farmingdale State College, classes — 85% of which are remote — will begin Jan. 29.

At SUNY Old Westbury, where most instruction is remote, in-person classes won’t begin until Feb. 8, while Binghamton University will resume classes Feb. 11. SUNY Brockport will start remote classes and in-person instruction on Feb. 8.

Chancellor Jim Malatras announced last week that the SUNY system has agreements with all its major unions to provide free, mandatory COVID-19 surveillance testing for employees on SUNY campuses.

"With the spring semester approaching, this brutal winter wave of coronavirus continues to shatter records and claim thousands of lives each and every day," he said in a statement announcing the last of the labor agreements on mandatory employee testing. "Required, routine surveillance testing for every person on our campuses is imperative to keeping our colleges and surrounding communities safe as we bring students back."

Those returning to SUNY campuses must quarantine at home for seven days before returning to dorms, classes or facilities and bring with them a recent negative COVID-19 test result. At Stony Brook, all 4,500 residents living on campus during spring semester will be required to be tested for the coronavirus two times per week, while commuters must be tested every two weeks.

Gearing up across LI, nation

Most institutions will follow state guidelines on COVID-19 testing. For example, at Hofstra University in Uniondale, where classes resume Feb. 1, students returning to dorms or classes on campus from noncontiguous states must show a negative test result from within three days before arrival, then quarantine for three days before testing again. Those coming from Long Island and contiguous states must show a recent negative test or be tested on campus upon arrival.

Elsewhere, schools across the state and country also have taken steps to deal with the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Syracuse University delayed spring semester by two weeks to Feb. 8, Penn State University put off in-person instruction for two weeks to mid-February, and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where COVID-19 outbreaks flourished in the fall semester, reacted with significantly reduced undergraduate dorm occupancy, weekly COVID-19 testing for those on campus, and a no-tolerance policy toward violations of COVID-19 related guidelines.

Schools on Long Island each have determined how they will approach spring semester. At Molloy College in Rockville Centre, for example, the semester will begin Tuesday, with about 200 students moving into on-campus dorms in the days before. The percentage of courses with in-person instruction will rise from 25% to 30%, spokesman Ken Young said.

Long Island University extended winter break by a week, with classes to start Feb. 1 and testing protocols in accordance with state guidelines. Adelphi will resume classes Jan. 26 with the same mix of remote, hybrid and in-person classes as in the fall, said spokesman Todd Wilson, and St. Joseph's College in Patchogue begins Jan. 28.

And at New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, where spring semester begins Jan. 26, all classes except those in the medical school will be offered remotely until March 1.

NYIT's calendar retains a traditional spring break from March 27 through April 4. But in an effort to discourage travel that could expose students to the coronavirus, other institutions have replaced weeklong breaks with scattered days off.

In a statement, Stony Brook University president Maurie McInnis said plans to keep the campus safe this spring would rely on "frequent COVID testing, required daily screening, and rapidly and effectively reacting to positive cases. ... Moreover, we are committed to remaining flexible and nimble enough to adjust our plans as situations dictate and guidance changes."

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