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SUNY chancellor: Cortland COVID positivity rate ‘a wake-up call’

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Tom Magnarelli
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WRVO Public Media
SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras.

The coronavirus positivity rate at SUNY schools is 0.5%, according to Chancellor Jim Malatras. He said that’s good, also noting SUNY has conducted more than a million coronavirus tests. But there still have been some issues.

A spike in cases at SUNY Geneseo earlier this month, forced some limitations on campus, but kept in-person instruction. A rash of cases at SUNY Cortland, tied to an off-campus party last weekend, have also raised concerns, according to Malatras.

"I think it should be a wake-up call for people,” Malatras said. “And I think Cortland should do everything in its power to reign that in. There has been reporting that Cortland has the most COVID cases in the entire system, and they’re one of our smaller schools.”

Earlier this week, SUNY Cortland’s seven-day positivity rate was at 1.69%. Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum in a letter to the college community, said the selfishness and lack of judgement illustrated by the weekend party is “appalling.” Cortland was forced to pause in-person learning for a while last fall because of a spike in COVID cases.

COVID-19 positivity rate at larger schools

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said the existing rule about shutting down in-person learning in colleges, if 100 students test positive for COVID-19, isn’t fair to larger institutions like Syracuse University or Cornell. McMahon said he believes there’s less than a 1% positivity rate at SU, and that’s what should drive decisions to clamp down on in-person learning.

“To be under 1%, which if they were their own state, they’d be the best in the country, yet they have to shut down because of this rule for in-person learning, to me, seems punitive,” McMahon said.

McMahon’s comments come after a rash of cases at SU spread at off-campus parties. The latest figures show more than 40 cases at the school. If that number hits 100 in the next week, SU would have to suspend in-person classes. The school was forced to do that last November after an uptick in cases.