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Reopening SUNY: Union calls for stronger plan to address COVID-19

Pictured is the SUNY Fredonia campus entrance in May. Submitted Photo.

A petition has been circulating around the State University of New York at Fredonia campus recently citing the need for a safer reopening plan at the college.

With more than 800 signatures ranging from faculty to students to alumni, the petition asks that all students, faculty and staff will be strongly recommended to undergo nasal swab RT-PCR testing no more than one week prior to traveling back to campus; all residential students be tested for active COVID-19 infection upon arrival to campus and prior to moving into dormitories using RT-PCR nasal swab testing using either pooled testing (based on common dormitory residence) or individual testing methods; and that the school should conduct pooled testing periodically throughout the semester, as recommended by the CDC, to prevent asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic individuals from spreading further infection.

“United University Professions (UUP) is strongly in support of ensuring campuses are safe for students, faculty, staff and our communities when school starts in the fall,” Christopher Taverna, president of UUP, Fredonia Chapter told the OBSERVER. “We are strong proponents of baseline testing when students and faculty return and surveillance testing afterward.”

UUP also supports contact tracing, mask-wearing and social distancing and an extension and maximum usage of UUP’s telecommuting agreement with the state.

“We are very concerned about preserving community health, which is why it’s so important that SUNY make baseline and surveillance testing mandatory for SUNY campuses,” Taverna said. “The executive board of the Fredonia Chapter of United University Professions (the union that represents the faculty and staff at Fredonia) voted unanimously to endorse this petition at their meeting this week.”

The petition goes on to state that “these recommendations reflect the best practices based on currently available evidence and guidelines. Allowing untested individuals from across New York State and the country to condense on campus poses great potential harm to the larger Fredonia community. Implementing such practices will reduce the likelihood of having to revert to complete distance learning or return home mid-semester. Prioritizing health and safety through testing as described has significant potential to outweigh the financial burden of having to return home mid-semester.”

The university issued a statement on behalf of the administration, which said “Fredonia is following current guidelines to make returning to Fredonia as safe as possible.

“Current CDC guidelines state ‘testing of all students, faculty and staff for COVID-19 before allowing campus entry (entry testing) has not been systematically studied. It is unknown if entry testing in institutes of higher education provides any additional reduction in person-to-person transmission of the virus beyond what would be expected with implementation of other infection preventive measures (e.g., social distancing, cloth face covering, hand washing, enhanced cleaning and disinfection).’ Therefore, the CDC does not recommend entry testing of all returning students, faculty, and staff.

“Additionally, a SUNY task force — made up of medical experts from four of SUNY’s medical campuses — advised against testing all returning students, faculty, and staff. The task force emphasized ‘event testing,’ which means whenever a student shows any symptoms (the ‘event’), they would be tested immediately and then placed into isolation/quarantine until the test results come back. That is exactly how Fredonia’s plan is laid out. If a student tests positive, we will do contact tracing. Fredonia now has 13 people on campus who have completed Johns Hopkins training to be a contact tracer.”

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