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Officials: SUNY Cortland suspends in-person learning after COVID-19 spike

SUNY Cortland recorded nearly 90 positive COVID-19 cases

SUNY Cortland recorded nearly 90 positive COVID-19 cases in one week, officials said.  Credit: LightRocket via Getty Images / John Greim

SUNY Cortland will shift to remote learning for at least two weeks after recording nearly 90 positive COVID-19 cases in one week, officials said.

In a statement sent to the college's community Monday, President Erik J. Bitterbaum said university officials had no choice because of 87 positive cases recorded in one week's time. Remote learning, along with a strict guideline of rules for students, begins Wednesday, Bitterbaum said.

The upstate university is the latest in the 64-campus SUNY system to be dealt a blow by the coronavirus. Other SUNY campuses have reached the system's threshold of 100 positive tests over 14 days and switched to remote learning.

On Sunday, Bitterbaum said SUNY Cortland had 87 positive tests "with more than a week remaining before the current 14-day period ends."

He said administrators will monitor the two-week period of virtual instruction to see if positive tests among students have fallen to an acceptable level under state and local health department guidelines to resume a hybrid of in-person and remote learning.

"I will not try to sugarcoat it: The next two weeks will be challenging," Bitterbaum said. "But it's what we need to do in order to continue functioning as a campus and a concerned member of the Cortland community."

In a news release, SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras said: "Cortland must redouble its efforts to stabilize and contain the virus on campus. It’s up to the entire campus community to come together and bend the curve so that every student has the chance to enjoy their campus experience."

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To try and control additional positive tests, Bitterbaum is enacting strict rules for students during two-week period that include:

  • Prohibiting students from going home or traveling outside of the Cortland community
  • If a residential student chooses to move off campus in the two weeks, their card access will be removed and they won't be allowed to return to campus
  • On-campus students should not visit off-campus students, and off-campus students should not be on campus

COVID-19 has disrupted campus life at other SUNY schools.

SUNY Oneonta sent all its on-campus students home for the semester in early September after more than 600 tested positive for COVID-19 in the first two weeks of classes. The school has gone to all remote learning.

The SUNY system ratcheted up efforts to stop the virus from spreading on its campuses last week, introducing new sanctions for students who violate health and safety protocols designed to combat the pandemic. Ignoring quarantine orders, refusing to wear a mask, and hosting or even attending parties that exceed attendance limits are grounds for punishment under the new rules, which took effect Thursday across SUNY's 64-campuses. Some violations carry stiff penalties, including suspension and expulsion.

SUNY Oswego resumed in-person classes Monday after a similar, two-week pause started Sept. 18.

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