Colleges handling COVID clusters differently

Jennifer Lewke
Updated: October 22, 2020 08:47 AM
Created: October 21, 2020 04:04 PM

PITTSFORD, N.Y. (WHEC) — As the COVID-19 cluster at St. John Fisher College in Rochester grows to 72 cases, the school is shutting down in-person learning for the rest of the semester and asking on-campus students to leave by Wednesday night.

For weeks, SJFC had been doing wastewater surveillance.

“They had my entire dorm spit tested, and we got those results back pretty quickly.  Everything was good and then the cases kind of really snuck up on us because we were really low for a while and then kind of took a big jump,” Michael Hebbard, a St. John Fisher Sophomore from the Syracuse area, said.

That jump caused a near-immediate shut down of in-person learning.

“It was surprising how quickly they told us to leave, I mean we got the email last night that we had to be out today,” Hebbard explained.  

All students who have tested positive for COVID-19 are in isolation at a local hotel and being monitored by the Monroe County Department of Health. Their close contacts are in quarantine. Everyone else on-campus was asked to pack up and move home by 9 p.m. on Wednesday. 

“Obviously, it's a little upsetting from the social aspect but I started online classes today and my professors are very experienced with it from last semester so, I'm not necessarily worried about it education-wise, but I will obviously miss the social aspect,” Corey Plakosh, a freshman at SJFC from Penfield, said. 

In consultation with the Monroe County Department of Health, St. John Fisher College says it determined that moving to remote instruction and asking well students to return to their homes was the best harm reduction strategy.  Every student who leaves campus must quarantine for 14 days, either within their home or in another location if there is a high-risk family member. The college says it will assist students who live with vulnerable family members with housing. 

“Obviously, there's been a spread there at that college so they're going to an online learning environment, that I think is the right thing to do. Look, we are not through this by any stretch of the imagination, we're not out of the woods,”  Monroe County Executive Adam Bello said.

But it does appear that different colleges in the Finger Lakes Region are handling COVID-19 clusters differently.  

Nazareth College, which is just down the street from St. John Fisher, stayed with its original class delivery of hybrid, in-person, and remote class delivery, and allowed students to remain on campus to conduct that learning while tightening safety protocols.

Keuka College first allowed students to stay on campus when it switched to remote learning but then asked them to leave too.

Bob Duffy, the head of the Finger Lakes Control Room, says different approaches are being used based on the extent of a cluster and the recommendations of medical professionals in any given county.

“This virus is not going away and each (college) president has been charged with doing what he or she feels is best for the campus," Duffy told News10NBC. "There's no easy answers. It's their first pandemic. It's all our first pandemic, but we're really worried now about moving forward this time of year."

Hebbard says for the sake of his mom, who has a compromised immune system, he’ll make sure he’s not bringing COVID-19 home with him.

“I'll probably get tested just for the sake of getting tested for the closure for at least my parents,” he said.

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