On Tuesday, UB President Satish Tripathi announced in an email that the university still plans on transitioning to remote learning on Nov. 24, even as on-campus COVID cases rise.
UB currently has 123 on-campus COVID cases, 97 of which count toward the New York Higher Education Threshold for a shutdown, which expires on Nov. 20. But in his email, Tripathi wrote that UB has been working closely with New York State and SUNY and plans on finishing the in-person component of the semester on schedule.
On Thursday, the university will suspend in-person student clubs and activities. Campus Dining will also offer takeout service only, in response to the rising case numbers.
Students will be required to get tested prior to returning home for Thanksgiving break, Tripathi reiterated in his email. Mandatory testing extends to students who reside on campus, take at least one class on campus, use on-campus services like dining, libraries or fitness centers, or work on campus.
UB Athletics will continue to operate while following NCAA and UB health guidelines, Tripathi said.
University administrators are working closely with partners across the state to wind down operations “over the next several days,” Tripathi wrote. On Oct. 27, SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras released Fall Semester Departure Guidance to help colleges across the state transition to remote learning for the remainder of the semester.
In his email, Tripathi thanked the UB community for their “vigilance” and credited them for the “low” on-campus positivity rate. The positivity rate has “steadily maintained a rate well below one percent (0.44%) compared to nearly 6% in Erie County over a 7-day rolling average,” according to Tripathi.
According to an email from UB Spokesperson John DellaContrada to The Spectrum, UB’s comprehensive health guidelines, surveillance testing program and effort to “significantly” reduce on-campus density “helped the university prevent significant outbreaks for most of the fall semester.”
In a statement, DellaContrada said the current uptick in positive cases at UB “mirrors” the recent uptick across Erie County. Gov. Andrew Cuomo placed the county in a “yellow” micro-zone cluster on Nov. 9.
“According to university data, there isn’t a discernible hotspot or pattern to the increase in on-campus cases. Fortunately, the positivity rate at UB remains very low which indicates that UB’s campuses and classrooms are safe places to be,” DellaContrada wrote.
Students expressed mixed feelings about Tripathi’s email.
Sai Seethala, a senior business administration major, says UB should “rethink” its decision to stay open until Nov. 24. He said the university should transition to distance learning once it reaches 100 cases so it can be “safe for the UB community.”
“Though it’s important for athletes to get back onto the field, I think we should halt everything for now and have a safe reopening,” Seethala said. “I think we are putting everyone at risk in my opinion and none of the scientists recommend starting athletics as they can also spread the virus quickly during the practice.”
Maya Berman, a sophomore biology major, says UB tries its best to enforce its mask policy, but she is still afraid of being exposed to COVID on campus, especially at the libraries, because “so many” students remove their masks.
“I think it’s really irresponsible of UB, [because] they are basically saying that their students’ and faculty’s health doesn’t matter,” Berman said.
Lily J. Stein, a freshman economics major, said she recently contracted COVID on campus “despite having maybe three close friends and even fewer friends” without a mask on during her time at UB.
“This was my first [semester] at UB, and it’s extremely frustrating and disappointing watching them continue to let kids go to in-person classes when cases are continuing to rise at an alarming rate,” Stein said. “Then the blame is going to be put on the kids for getting the virus when the school probably should’ve gone fully virtual weeks ago. It’s not safe to be out right now.”
Jacob B. Wilk, a sophomore biomedical sciences major, says UB should transition to remote learning now and believes it would be “super easy” because the university will be doing so anyway next week.
“I think they probably don’t want to look bad by closing so close to break and to inconvenience people by closing before they were expecting to have to leave,” Wilk said. “Maybe if they encouraged people to keep their distance from campus, but still allow the people in dorms to stay until next week–– if we hit 100.”
UB’s decision to hold in-person instruction during the fall semester was a statewide decision made by Gov. Cuomo based on the fact that there was a low rate of transmission in Erie County and around the state on Aug. 7, DellaContrada wrote.
UB’s plans were curated by more than 180 faculty, staff and students, he wrote, and then approved by UB Faculty Senate Executive Committee.
“The university’s planning over the past four months has factored in the possibility of transitioning to fully remote instruction if there were increases in cases and/or if the state directed SUNY schools to transition to remote learning,” DellaContrada wrote. “Under either scenario, the university has always planned to complete the semester. UB’s fall semester plan, announced over the summer, includes a transition to remote learning on Nov. 30 for the remainder of the fall semester.”
Seethala understands where UB is coming from, but says the university should close its campus’ until there is a vaccine.
“We all want to get back to campus and enjoy the games and get back to our classrooms but, I am not sure how safe everything is going to be,” Seethala said. “Once we have everything under control we can get back to good old lives.”
Alexandra Moyen is the editor in chief and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @AlexandraMoyen
Alexandra Moyen is the senior features editor of The Spectrum.