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NY colleges seeing 100 COVID cases must shut down, go remote for two weeks, Cuomo says

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo gives remarks at the

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo gives remarks at the Clinton G. Martin Community Park Center Monday in New Hyde Park. Credit: Corey Sipkin

This story was reported by Matthew Chayes, Bart Jones and David Reich-Hale. It was written by Jones.

Colleges in New York must shut down in-person instruction for two weeks if they have 100 cases of confirmed positives for COVID-19 or a number equal to 5% of their total student and faculty population, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Thursday.

The governor made the decision as some colleges around the country that have reopened for in-person instruction have seen a spike in cases.

During the two-week shutdown, New York colleges would revert to online learning, Cuomo said, and on-campus activity would be limited. At the end of the two weeks, officials would reassess to see if the colleges should reopen.

“We should anticipate clusters. When you have large congregations of people, anticipate a cluster. We know that," he said. “Be prepared for it. Get ahead of it."

Students will be allowed to remain on campus during the remote learning phase. The colleges will be forced to stop in-person instruction if they hit either of the two thresholds — whichever is lower, Cuomo said.

"If after two weeks, the local health department finds the college has demonstrated that it cannot contain the number of cases, then they could continue to require remote learning, or impose other mitigation measures in consultation with the State Department of Health," Cuomo said in a statement. "During that time, athletic activities and other extracurricular activities must be suspended, and dining hall options must move to take-out only."

"If clusters of positive cases emerge on particular areas of a campus while still below 5 percent or under 100 students, but strain the college's ability to isolate and contact trace, the college must return to 100 percent distance learning with limited on-campus activity," the statement said.

The local department of health or State Department of Health "may order colleges to suspend on-campus activities upon a finding of the college's inability to control the outbreak, even under the metric."

Colleges across Long Island, including Adelphi and Hofstra universities, Molloy and St. Joseph's colleges and New York Institute of Technology, said they have been working on plans in the event they must go to full remote learning, and will comply with all state mandates.

Separately, beginning in September, New York City kindergartners through second graders are expected to be given 65 to 95 minutes of instruction; third through fifth graders, 90 to 110 minutes; sixth through eighth, 80 to 100 minutes; and ninth through 12th graders, 100 to 120 minutes, according to the city Education Department’s chief academic officer, Linda Chen.

Cuomo's announcement came as New York marked its 20th straight day of coronavirus infection levels below 1%.

The state completed 83,437 coronavirus tests on Wednesday, with 791 confirmed positive for the virus, for a level of 0.95%. But Cuomo said the state was raising a "yellow flag" in Western New York, where the rate was 2%.

The state is deploying a "SWAT team" from the Department of Health to do additional rapid testing at eight locations to try to determine the causes of the increase in cases, and mitigate them.

Cuomo again harshly criticized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for issuing new guidelines this week saying that people exposed to someone with COVID-19 do not need to get tested for the virus.

“That is really bad advice and it is dumbfounding,” Cuomo said.

CDC Director Robert Redfield on Thursday clarified some of the new guidelines, following a storm of criticism from health experts and public officials.

Redfield said “testing may be considered for all close contacts of confirmed or probable Covid-19 patients.”

“Testing is meant to drive actions and achieve specific public health objectives,” Redfield wrote in a statement. “Everyone who needs a Covid-19 test, can get a test. Everyone who wants a test does not necessarily need a test; the key is to engage the needed public health community in the decision with the appropriate follow-up action.”

Cuomo alleged that the initial CDC changes were ordered by President Donald Trump to try to reduce testing and thus the number of confirmed cases, which Trump has argued make the United States look bad.

Asked Thursday what would happen if the federal government announces it has approved a vaccine for COVID-19 before the November presidential election, Cuomo said: “I believe this federal government has forfeited its credibility writ large. ... If they turn around now and say, ‘There’s a vaccine, don’t worry. Take it.’ Who’s going to believe them? Not me.”

Dr. David Battinelli, chief medical officer at Northwell Health, said the latest CDC guidelines might have been “too confusing to understand, so it was easier to just revert to what they had, which is if you think you were exposed, get tested.”

Battinelli said Northwell defined being exposed as being within 6 feet, without masks, for 10 to 15 minutes with someone who had tested positive for the virus.

Many people think they’ve been exposed, he said, when they haven’t been.

Battinelli added that health providers and residents should be able to better manage any COVID-19 outbreak because of improved testing, contact tracing and better understanding of social distancing, including wearing masks.

“I don’t think the CDC wanted to be seen as taking away one of those weapons,” he said.

According to state data released Thursday, Long Island registered a 0.6% level of confirmed positives for COVID-19 in testing completed Wednesday, while New York City registered a 0.9% level

Four people died of COVID-19-related causes on Wednesday in the state.

The number of new confirmed cases of the virus was 47 in Nassau County, 36 in Suffolk County, and 315 in New York City. 

Meanwhile, Northwell Health said Thursday it had 74 COVID-19 patients at the 19 hospitals it owns and operates, compared with 3,400 in April.

NYU Winthrop in Mineola had two COVID-positive patients, compared with 477 in April, while Catholic Health Services of Long Island had 26 at its six hospitals, down from more than 800.

Stony Brook University Hospital reported eight COVID-19 patients, compared with 435 in April.

With Matthew Chayes