NY State Says One-Hundred COVID-19 Cases Means Remote Learning for NYU

Here’s what NYU is doing to prevent that.

NYU students go through mandatory COVID-19 testing at the testing site on Gould Plaza prior to the start of classes. New York Governor Cuomo unveils new policy that would mandate two weeks remote learning for any university reporting 100 COVID-19 cases or a number of COVID-19 cases exceeding 5% of the student population. (Staff Photo by Alexandra Chan)

If 100 or more members of the NYU campus community test positive for COVID-19, the entire university will have to transition to remote learning for at least two weeks; Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the new statewide guidance on Thursday, Aug. 27. Athletics and extracurriculars would be suspended and dining halls would only offer take-out; however, students could stay on campus.

“We’ve seen troubling reports of students congregating on college campuses, so we are setting a threshold that says if colleges have 100 cases or if the number of cases equal 5% of their population or more, they must go to remote learning for two weeks, at which time we will reassess the situation,” Cuomo’s press office announced

The press release adds that if, after two weeks, the college has not contained the outbreak, the local health department could require more remote learning or, in consultation with the State Department of Health, impose “other mitigation measures.”

The day before the governor announced the guidance, NYU’s administration released a COVID-19 update reporting that “between August 1 and August 23, more than 3,000 NYU faculty members, employees and researchers were tested for COVID-19, all of them negative; 7,772 students were tested, too—five of them positive.”  The report also states that five other members of the NYU community were reported to have contracted COVID-19, bringing the university’s total to 10.  They were quarantining in isolation under the oversight of the COVID-19 Prevention & Response Team as of Aug. 26.

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“While these data suggest a low prevalence of COVID-19, newly identified cases among members of the NYU community highlight the importance of NYU’s layered approach to safety and health, which will include robust, mandatory ongoing COVID-19 testing,” the report states.

Notably, even if a college or university doesn’t reach the COVID-19-case threshold, the local department of health or State Department of Health could still order the school to suspend activities on campus. On Aug. 30, Cuomo deployed a SWAT team and contact tracers to contain a COVID-19 cluster at SUNY Oneonta.

“If clusters of positive cases emerge on particular areas of a campus while still below 5 percent or under 100 students, but strain the college’s ability to isolate and contact trace, the college must return to 100 percent distance learning with limited on-campus activity,” the press release reads.

Although new COVID-19 cases are remaining mostly steady in New York,  some of the state’s schools attempting a return to on-campus, in-person models are already dealing with outbreaks. On Saturday, Aug. 29, the Cornell Daily Sun reported that Tompkins County Health Department had identified a nine-case COVID-19 cluster at Cornell University while schools such as  UNC have moved to remote learning just a week after starting in-person classes.

NYU has taken numerous steps to avert a return to 100% distance learning, such as capping many university spaces at 50% capacity and creating one-way stairways and hallways. All members of the NYU community must wear masks — unless eating, in their office, or in their own housing unit — and socially distance at least six feet at all times. On the first day of in-person classes, students will pick a seat and stick to it for the rest of the semester; in a mandatory video delineating NYU’s new health and safety rules, students are strongly discouraged from visiting bars or attending parties. 

“We should anticipate clusters and that’s what we’re seeing,” Cuomo concluded. “Be prepared for it, get ahead of it.” 

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, August 31, 2020, e-print edition. Email Trace Miller at [email protected]

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