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SU plans to bring students back to campus in January, despite rising coronavirus cases

Payne Horning
WRVO News (file photo)

Halloween weekend combined with testing delays allowed the coronavirus to spread among students on the Syracuse University campus, forcing it to move to remote learning.  As students leave campus this week, officials are looking back at how things went wrong.

SU Vice Chancellor Michael Haynie said keeping thousands of students mostly COVID-free for nearly four months was actually a pretty impressive feat, creating a bubble around students. But that bubble burst on Halloween weekend, in part he believes, because of coronavirus fatigue.

“We didn’t have big parties, etc.” Haynie said. “But we did have too many gatherings of too many people in ways that were not necessarily safe given the COVID situation.”

He also said delays in getting test results allowed the virus to fester in the community, and it’s that testing that’s going to get attention before students return to Syracuse in January.

"We’re going to focus on enhancing our surveillance testing capability,” Haynie said. “We have to turn tests in 24 hours and have mass surveillance with our saliva program. We’re going to invest in that capability. We’ve already taken steps in infrastructure that we’ve made.”

SU cancelled all in-person instruction last week because of a surge in cases. The university reported 46 new cases among students Tuesday, and currently has 266 active cases.

Many students have already left campus, and Haynie estimated that a few hundred students who have tested positive, will have to remain in Syracuse through the Thanksgiving holiday to wait out their quarantine.

70% of the COVID surge involved off-campus students, Haynie said.  SU is still planning on having students back for a spring semester that begins January 25. SUNY schools have pushed the start of the spring semester to February 1, and canceled spring break at all 64 campuses.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.