ALBANY, N.Y. — New York State has established its own threshold for temporarily closing colleges with COVID-19 outbreaks: 100 positive tests over two weeks. Should a school hit that number, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday that it must revert to completely remote learning for two weeks after that, at which point the state would further examine the pandemic’s status on that campus.
The state’s announcement comes merely days before Cornell University and Tompkins Cortland Community College are set to open their classrooms to students. Ithaca College has already announced its decision to keep students out of classrooms and administer online learning for the fall semester. The governor’s directive appears to apply statewide, not region-by-region as most other tenets of the reopening process have.
“We have colleges that are reopening, we’re seeing around the country situations where colleges reopen and then have an outbreak of cases,” Cuomo said. “We are going to set a threshold, if any college has 100 cases or a number of cases equal to five percent of their population or more, whichever number is less, they must go to online learning for two weeks, and then we’ll reassess in consultation with the local health department.”
Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa clarified on Twitter that the 100 cases must be found within two weeks of each other to trigger the remote learning mandate.
As college students return to campus, schools must be prepared for all possibilities.
If a college experiences 100 COVID cases or an outbreak equal to 5% of its population (whichever is less)—that college MUST go to remote learning for 2 weeks while the situation is evaluated.
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) August 27, 2020
“We should anticipate clusters, when you have large congregations of people, anticipate a cluster,” Cuomo said. “Be prepared for it, get ahead of it. […] We expect it, we want to be prepared for it, and that’s a threshold that we’re going to put in place.”
It’s unclear if this will impact the opening plans of Cornell or TC3, but officials from both schools claimed it would not. TC3’s Deb Mohlenoff said the announcement did not change the school’s reopening plans. Cornell had set its own threshold at 250 positive cases in one week as one metric that would make the school seriously consider shutting down classrooms and going online for the rest of the semester, but the state’s announcement obviously establishes a far lower threshold than that. Cornell was also planning on 1,200 cases over the full fall semester, a number school officials have repeatedly stated they are comfortable with and could control.
“As we carefully track our ongoing monitoring of students, faculty and staff, we will continue to work in close consultation with Tompkins County Health Department and in strict accordance with all New York state guidelines,” Carberry said.