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Colleges prep for facial recognition, temperature checks in reopening plans

Drew Bogner, retiring president of Molloy College, says his school is preparing for many different scenarios for the start of the next academic year.  Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams

Long Island higher education officials are considering new approaches to campus life as institutions await state guidelines on conducting courses in the fall, when experts say a second wave of the coronavirus could possibly hit.

Come late August and September, college students could see kiosks with facial recognition technology that take their temperatures, courses with the flexibility of attending in-person or remotely, and dorm rooms without roommates to comply with social distancing rules.

Reopening colleges in New York falls under Phase 4, the final part of the state's reopening plans. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he plans to announce in June a decision on the fall semester for K-12 schools and higher education. 

“As much as people want to get together and start their lives again, we all know that here in Suffolk County this has been a very deadly disease, so we have to approach reopening the campuses with caution,” said Donald R. Boomgaarden, president of St. Joseph’s College, which has a campus in Patchogue.

Some SUNY campuses, including Old Westbury, have tentative reopening plans in the works that will be sent to the SUNY system next week.

Several other Long Island campuses — including Adelphi University, Hofstra University, Long Island University, Molloy College and St. Joseph's College — are part of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, which issued a reopening report May 18.

That report, conducted in collaboration with SUNY officials, recommends a close relationship with local health departments, as well as the capacity for immediate testing of students, faculty and staff with symptoms.

"Facilities should be identified and a staffing plan in place to quickly isolate suspected or confirmed virus carriers," read the report, which also included recommendations on how schools can handle residential life, athletic events and research.

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"We plan to have active testing and contact tracing as part of routine campus operations in order to minimize transmission," Adelphi University President Christine Riordan said. Riordan is co-chair of the 20-person Restart Plan for Higher Education task force that wrote the report.

Adelphi is planning a phased return to campus across all operations.

Like many other institutions, Adelphi will offer three class options for students --  in-person, online only and hybrid, which is a mix of online and in-person classes. Classrooms will be modified to allow for social distancing and reducing density, university officials said.

“When cases occur on campus in the fall, we need to be able to move forward with classes without a hitch,” said Drew Bogner, retiring president of Molloy College who will be succeeded this summer by James Lentini, provost at Oakland University in Michigan.

“We have students that are in a high-risk group, and they shouldn’t feel they have to come to class, so we want to give them that option,” Bogner said. "We call it hybrid-flex. Courses have the ability to be flexible with the amount of face-to-face or online time.”

Molloy College will be purchasing kiosks with facial recognition, where students can get their temperature checked, Bogner said. The kiosks, which will be placed throughout campus and at the entrance of residence halls, will automatically send a report to student health services if a student has a fever, so that the student can receive immediate attention, Bogner said. 

Student life activities also will be held virtually, Bogner said. As for dorms rooms, Bogner said he anticipates they will have to permit only one student per room, "unless a roommate can be considered a family member."

SUNY Old Westbury's plan also prepares the campus for different scenarios.

“It points us in a direction that no matter what the governor may announce, we will be ready,” college President Rev. Calvin Butts said. “If he announced face-to-face instruction, we will be ready. If he says no congregating, we will be ready and will follow his guidance.”

The Old Westbury campus, like Stony Brook University, has a field hospital, constructed at its athletic field and gym in the spring by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to deal with a potential shortage of hospital beds on Long Island. There are no plans to dismantle the setup, SUNY Old Westbury officials said.

“We will have to wait and see what happens with the infection rate,” Butts said, adding that residence halls might be used to house health care staff if there's a second wave.

Mark Jarrett, chief quality officer for New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health, said because COVID-19 is so highly infectious, a second wave could come in early fall.

Jarrett said a second wave could come in hot spots across the country where people ignore recommendations to wear masks and practice social distancing, and restrictions are loosened too much.

Meanwhile, SUNY Stony Brook is “still planning for a timely start to the fall semester [on-campus] while continuing to evaluate conditions” for the safety of students, according to a post on the university's website. The school plans to provide an update by June 30, the post read.

Long Island University is "planning for on-campus education this fall, with the health and safety of our students top of mind," the university said in a statement.

Hofstra University is waiting on the state's guidelines and "looking at many options" for instruction.

"We also are working with Northwell Health, our partner in our medical and nursing schools, to develop a plan that will keep the entire campus community safe and healthy while providing a robust educational experience," the university said in a statement.

Farmingdale State College is holding its first summer session online and will decide by June 8 how it will proceed with subsequent summer sessions, said Patrick Calabria, vice president for institutional advancement at the college.

The college is working with SUNY state officials to develop plans for the fall, Calabria said. A decision on on-campus housing had not yet been reached, he said, but officials were considering scenarios to allow for social distancing. Officials also were considering having staff return in phases, Calabria said.

Fred Kowal, president of the United University Professions union, agreed that the highest priority has to favor health and safety.

The nation's largest higher education union, which represents the faculty and professional staff of the SUNY system, “totally understands the financial advantage to having students on campus in large numbers. The reality is, in this pandemic, it is imperative that safety be the first priority even if there is a financial cost to the universities,” said Kowal. 

Reopening colleges

The Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York issued the report "Creating Safe and Resilient Campuses" on May 18. Adelphi University President Christine M. Riordan is co-chair of the group's Restart Plan for Higher Education task force, which issued the report. It recommends:

  • The capacity for immediate testing of all symptomatic students, faculty and staff should be in place, including the ability to rapidly test contacts.
  • If testing is not available, develop a symptom surveillance plan. Such a plan may include appropriate combinations of medical questionnaire screening or isolation procedures.
  • When an infection is detected, institutions should isolate the infected student for 14 days, trace contacts, quarantine all roommates and suitemates, and consider quarantining others with close contact.
  • Institutions should have a plan to detect early warnings of an infection surge and a shutdown plan in place to respond rapidly.
  • Residential living plans should include enhanced cleaning, social distancing, personal face coverings in common areas, restrictions on group events and activities, limited cross-access by students to other dorms, special housing considerations for students with medical conditions, public health training, and a modified code of conduct.
  • Institutions should have a plan for social distancing during university activities (teaching, dining, extracurricular activities, etc.), including facilities modifications where appropriate.

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