UB administered nearly 16,000 COVID tests during the final two weeks of the in-person component of the fall semester, according to the university’s COVID dashboard.
Only 68 — or 0.4% — of these tests came back positive, as the university plans to begin fully remote learning after Thanksgiving. UB administered more surveillance and screening tests — 15,759 — from Nov. 7-20 than in any other two-week period during the semester.
The large increase in administered COVID tests can be attributed to an extensive testing campaign at Alumni Arena, which was mandated by SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras. But the lack of positive cases suggests that UB is somewhat insulated from the broader Erie County community, which recently received an “orange zone” designation and is on track to becoming a “red zone.”
Last Wednesday, UB reached the NYS higher education threshold of 100 positive on-campus cases during a set two-week period, but notably didn’t shut down, despite pleas from faculty and students.
In a statement, a university spokesperson said the decision was made in consultation with the Erie County and New York State health departments, who greenlit the continuation of classes despite saying for months that if a college reaches 100 cases, it would have to go remote. SUNY Cortland and Binghamton were just a couple of colleges that had to go on a two-week pause this semester after they reached 100 cases.
UB suspended in-person student clubs and activities and shifted its dining operation to takeout-only, but its decision to continue in-person classes made some members of the university community uneasy.
“The university’s positivity rate — 0.44% compared to near 7% in Erie County over a rolling seven-day average — and extensive SUNY-mandated pre-break surveillance testing factored into the decision,” the statement read.
In a university-wide email, UB President Satish Tripathi said the decision was made, in part, because it was “absolutely critical” that students be tested prior to leaving for Thanksgiving break. Students who reside on campus, take at least one class on campus, use on-campus services such as dining, libraries or fitness facilities or work on campus were required to get tested over the past two weeks.
UB administered 33,395 tests this semester, with only 154 (0.46%) coming back positive.
The university used technology created by Upstate Medical University and Quadrant Biosciences to conduct randomized pooled surveillance testing. The testing centered on stratified random sampling of three groups of individuals — students living on-campus, students living off-campus but taking classes on-campus and faculty and staff — and was conducted throughout the semester.
UB only implemented randomized surveillance testing this semester after members of the university community called it a “necessary” step in tackling the virus.
In August, Phil L. Glick, former president of the Buffalo Center Chapter of the United University Professions, a higher education union representing UB’s faculty, advocated for surveillance testing in a column in the Buffalo News.
“My biggest concern is [the] UB administration’s adamant refusal to add baseline and surveillance Covid testing to their plan,” Glick wrote. “They have argued that voluntary quarantining for locals and state-mandated 14-day quarantining for those returning from Covid ‘hot spots’ will be sufficient to detect all Covid-positive individuals and baseline and surveillance testing would not be a reasonable use of limited Covid testing supplies and financial resources.”
UB has 100 confirmed active on-campus cases of COVID among students and faculty as of Nov. 24, according to its COVID dashboard.
Among those affected are 47 students living on-campus, 42 students living off-campus but taking classes on-campus and 11 university employees working on-campus. An additional 37 students living off-campus but taking classes remotely and one employee working remotely have tested positive for the virus in the past 14 days.
The university has had 965 total cumulative confirmed positive cases since Aug. 21.
Justin Weiss is the senior features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Justin Weiss is the The Spectrum's managing editor. In his free time, he can be found hiking, playing baseball or throwing things at his TV when his sports teams aren't winning. His words have appeared in Elite Sports New York and the Long Island Herald. He can be found on Twitter @Jwmlb1.