UB has a 14-day rolling percent positive average of 1.23% for COVID-19, but experts say students shouldn’t fear a surge in cases.
Thomas Russo, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the UB Department of Medicine, says UB students should feel comfortable about being on campus, as the result of high vaccination rates and a low hospitalization rate for the 18-25 age group.
“Being on campus right now is probably one of the safest places to be in Erie County and Western New York,” Russo said in a phone interview. “The reason is that our vaccination rate is so high. Over 90% of our students are fully vaccinated and most of that remaining 6% or so have gotten one shot and will be fully vaccinated within another few weeks.”
Students are required to wear masks in indoor settings and at large outdoor gatherings. The Spectrum spoke to a number of students who reported high compliance in classroom and laboratory settings, with exceptions.
“We’re thankful for students’ tremendous efforts to comply with UB’s health requirements during the first few weeks of the semester, especially their commitment to getting vaccinated, which has produced a 99% vaccination rate — the highest rate in SUNY,” UB spokesperson John DellaContrada said in a statement.
The backbone of UB’s COVID-19 plan is a vaccination mandate, which has achieved what administrators were hoping for: near-universal vaccination. Roughly 28,500 students have submitted proof of full vaccination, with more to follow in the coming weeks, according to university officials.
A few hundred students were granted medical or religious exemptions to the vaccine, Russo said.
As of Sept. 16, only 78% of employees have provided proof of full vaccination, according to UB Spokesperson David Hill — which can be attributed to their union’s influence. Unvaccinated professors are still permitted to teach in person, however they must wear masks and participate in weekly surveillance testing.
But campus remains an “extraordinarily safe place to be,” Russo said. Students are “better off on campus than in other venues in Erie County, Western New York and other parts of the country.”
UB currently has a rolling 14-day average of 87 total positive COVID-19 cases, as of Sunday evening. The university conducted 2,529 total tests from Sept. 5-19, with 31 coming out positive.
“Throughout our campuses, students thus far have demonstrated tremendous compliance with masking requirements, particularly within classroom settings and when traveling indoors between classes,” DellaContrada said. “In other campus spaces, mask wearing compliance has been very good overall, but more diligence and consistency is needed, and we will continue to urge students to wear masks at all times where required.”
Russo says parties could be at least partially to blame for the current case totals, and he encourages students to be cognizant of the people around them and remember that it’s not just about them, but the community at large.
“What always happens in the first two weeks of school is that people get together and party,” Russo said. “The best time in college is the time before your classes start and you don’t have any homework or tests. This summer, compared to last summer, people have been partying like it’s pre-COVID-19, because we’ve been so pent-up socially. People need social interaction, particularly people who are younger. It’s so critical. That’s why the first two weeks are always the worst two weeks.”
University officials continue to encourage students to wear masks indoors, complete the Daily Health Check and interact with their peers responsibly off campus.
Russo wants young people to remember that they aren’t “bullet-proof” from getting infected, even after they get the shot. The greatest risk of spreading COVID-19 comes when students are indoors and have prolonged exposure to one another.
“The message to the university community is this: UB has a robust set of protocols in place proven to reduce risk and prevent spread of the virus,” DellaContrada said. “It’s up to each of us to follow these protocols each and every day throughout the semester. Together, we can help make this a safe and successful semester.”
Justin Weiss is the managing editor and can be reached at email@example.com
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.