President Bitterbaum: University seeks information about off-campus gatherings

President Bitterbaum: University seeks information about off-campus gatherings

09/05/2020 

The following update about SUNY Cortland's campus restart was sent to the SUNY Cortland community on behalf of President Erik J. Bitterbaum:

To our students, faculty and staff,

Before this strange semester began, I asked for your help. And most of you, with very few exceptions, have risen to the challenge. As the first week of the fall 2020 semester comes to an end, I am proud to report that physical distancing and face coverings have been the norm on campus. The majority of you have adapted to new rules and new ways of doing things.  

For this, I thank you. Unfortunately, there is more to do.  

Although the vast majority of our community understands the serious threat we are facing from COVID-19 and are willing to make the adjustments needed to keep people safe, a small number of students apparently still do not grasp it, or simply do not care. We have received reports of off-campus house parties, of unreasonable gatherings of tightly grouped students without masks, acting as if these are normal times. All of these reports are being actively investigated. 

Make no mistake, “normal” college behavior now has the ability to close down our campus and make many people ill. A single party like the one I just described is thought to have sparked the outbreak that shut SUNY Oneonta down and sent their students home this week, as more than 400 students tested positive for the virus.   

Oneonta has roughly the same number of students as SUNY Cortland. As of today, we have had only four positive cases, but that success can be undone quickly by thoughtless or selfish actions.  

We have already placed four students on interim suspension for repeated violations of COVID-19 rules, and are more than willing to take similar action against any students involved in potentially dangerous activity. Please understand, students who choose not to follow these safety measures during normal times are considered rule-breakers. Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, those same violators have become serious threats to the health of our community and the success of the fall semester.  

So, I am asking for your help. We cannot take action against organizers or participants in unsafe gatherings unless we can identify them and have enough detailed information to prove our case. If you have information about gatherings that violate COVID-19-related guidelines, please share it by completing a SUNY Cortland incident report. We will protect your confidentiality. The more specific information we have about allegations, the more likely it is we will be able act to protect the campus community. Those violating the rules are jeopardizing their health, the health of others and their education at SUNY Cortland.  

I mentioned that we have had four students test positive for COVID-19 since the start of the semester. This number is going to change. To keep students, families, faculty, staff and Cortland community members up to dated on the situation, we have created a COVID-19 Dashboard accessible from our Restart Website. The dashboard will be updated regularly, and will give the number of SUNY Cortland community members who are currently positive, the total number since the start of the semester and the number of people in quarantine and isolation. As a remainder, quarantine is a precautionary measure used for people at high risk for the virus and isolation is for people who tested positive. 

In addition to the testing of at-risk individuals currently done by Student Health Services, we hope to soon announce our participation in a pool surveillance testing program with SUNY Upstate Medical Center. This will enhance our ability to quickly spot potential outbreaks and follow up with targeted testing. It will not, however, lesson the importance of daily online screen surveys. These should continue to be done daily by all students, whether they are on campus or off campus.  

I’d like to conclude by thanking all of you once again. Our only path to a healthy and successful fall semester is to continue the spirit of cooperation and caring that marked this past week. 

All the best,  

Erik J. Bitterbaum 


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