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Colleges' Thanksgiving breaks stir fears of COVID-19 spread

Long Islanders should prepare for a very different

Long Islanders should prepare for a very different Thanksgiving during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center. Credit: Newsday / Jessica Kelley

Universities and colleges on Long Island are mandating COVID-19 tests for some students, and encouraging tests for the rest, as tens of thousands of them prepare to travel home for Thanksgiving just as infection rates are rising nationwide.

Long Islanders studying in COVID-19 hot-spot states such as Michigan and Wisconsin also will be returning home for the holiday and long winter breaks.

"I am not optimistic about the next six weeks," said Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of the infectious diseases divisions at North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

Farber, who is also a professor at Hofstra University’s Zucker School of Medicine, agreed that returning students are potential sources of COVID-19 spread and said a COVID-19 test before joining family members is "a very good idea."

"Unfortunately, I am not sure that it is possible for many students," he said. "They are going to have a hard time finding them in many areas. In places where students can’t get it done, I suggest they dramatically limit their interactions for two weeks prior to leaving."

Stony Brook University announced recently that under a directive from the state’s higher education system, it would require negative COVID-19 test results of all residential and commuter students before their departure for home for Thanksgiving break.

At Stony Brook, all 4,500 residential students were being tested on a weekly basis, Lawrence Zacarese, who oversees the university's COVID-19 response, told Newsday last month.

The fall semester will finish remotely, with students returning for the January winter session, and for spring semester beginning Feb. 1. Those testing positive would determine where best to isolate or quarantine, according to university officials.

At Farmingdale State College, where most students are commuters and taking classes remotely, only those living or attending classes on campus would be tested before Thanksgiving and upon their return on Nov. 30 to finish the semester, said Patrick Calabria, a university administrator.

"The number of resident students and students taking in-person classes is approximately 450 out of our total enrollment of over 10,000," Calabria said.

At SUNY Old Westbury, where residential halls are closed and most instruction is remote, "We are testing students who attend during the last 10 days of on-campus instruction" before Thanksgiving, spokesman Michael Kinane said. "For us, that equates to two classes with an expected attendance of 23 students."

Hofstra University in Hempstead conducts a routine surveillance testing program of the university community and has reported 126 positive COVID-19 cases since the start of the semester. It is offering free COVID-19 testing to all students leaving campus before Thanksgiving, according to university spokeswoman Karla Schuster, adding, "In accordance with Governor Cuomo’s recommendation, Hofstra has advised all students who are leaving the area at the end of the semester that they should get a COVID-19 test up to nine days prior to their departure."

Last year, about half of Hofstra's more than 10,000 undergraduates and graduate students were from Long Island, with the rest coming from all over the country and 88 countries.

The decision to test all departing SUNY students who use any campus facility — in a dorm, classroom, gym, library, dining hall or in a job — between Nov. 9 and Nov. 25 was announced by SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras last month. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo advised students to get tested before Thanksgiving break and recently announced updated guidelines for testing and quarantining upon return from travel advisory states.

The fall semester at Hofstra will switch to remote instruction after Thanksgiving, and students returning for the Feb. 1 start of the spring semester will be required to submit a negative COVID-19 test result.

Adelphi University spokesman Todd Wilson said that in addition to the regular surveillance testing, about 700 residential students will be tested again before the Thanksgiving break when dorms close as the semester concludes with remote instruction. Residential students must provide a negative test result when classes resume at the Garden City campus in January. All others must complete a health screening and participate in the university’s random testing program.

Only Molloy College’s 150 residential students on the Rockville Centre campus will be tested before departing for Thanksgiving break and retested upon their return in January, said spokesman Ken Young, adding the college would focus on safety measures such as its new air purification system in its three residential dorms, temperature kiosks, masks, hand-washing and social distancing.

New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury is not requiring students to get tested, although the 74 living in dorms must be tested before returning from the holiday to finish the semester, spokesman Kimberly Tucker Campo said. Spring semester plans are not finalized, but "we expect that students will be retested at the beginning of next semester." NYIT is primarily a commuter school with most students residing off-campus.

LIU Post in Brookville issued a statement that it would continue its new campus surveillance testing and cover all costs not covered by an individual’s insurance.

"The university is reviewing with local and state health experts the best practices for testing students before they leave campus for the holidays," the statement said, without elaborating on whether students would be required or encouraged to get tested.

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