This message was sent to the campus community Aug. 31, 2020
Uphold the Protect New Paltz Pledge for Self and Others:
Our In-Person Semester Depends On It
Dear Members of the Campus Community:
This weekend New York State and SUNY officials shut down in-person classes at SUNY Oneonta for two weeks after more than 100 students tested positive for COVID-19. The primary source of those infections was traced to parties where mask-wearing and social-distancing were tossed aside. Several students and student organizations at Oneonta have been suspended for their involvement, paralleling disciplinary action at SUNY Plattsburgh, SUNY Cortland, SUNY Albany, Marist College, and other schools.
These actions are a sober reminder of what can happen at New Paltz if everyone in our community does not remain vigilant in taking every step to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – wearing masks, maintaining social distance, frequent hand-washing, and avoiding being part of multi-person gatherings, especially indoors, without protecting themselves and others. Think: We, Not Me.
Your choice is simple – to follow these guidelines diligently, or risk losing the opportunity to complete an on-campus semester with face-to-face course offerings and other valuable living/learning experiences. Students who do not exercise safe behavior are a threat to themselves, to fellow students, faculty, staff, and local residents. They threaten the fall semester for everyone.
We began an on-campus semester with an emphasis on education to influence behavior. And we thank the many, many students on campus and in the community who are complying with guidelines. But the experience on other campuses reinforces that we must be prepared to take all safeguards against the spread of this virus. Students who host off campus events without observing mask and social distancing guidelines (outdoors is strongly encouraged) or who disregard no-visitor policies in the residence halls, or who otherwise violate mask-wearing rules will face prompt suspension from campus. Make no mistake about our commitment to health and safety.
Three New Paltz students have tested positive for COVID-19; they were in close contact with each another, so the cases are related. The virus is here. And as we know, it is highly contagious. Students who were in close contact with the three cases have been identified and are quarantining; test results for these other contacts so far are negative.
However, the first student to test positive had participated in two outdoor, off-campus pick-up basketball games on Monday, Aug. 24, at 6 a.m., and Wednesday, Aug. 26, at 7 a.m., in Tony Williams Park in Highland, New York. The student was not wearing a mask during the games, which is allowed by New York State sports and recreation guidelines (but not by SUNY New Paltz standards). The 12 students who were involved in those games have all been tested and have been in quarantine. The matter is under investigation.
We start our schedule of mandatory COVID testing today for all in-person students and we will respond swiftly in the case of a positive test through contact tracing and quarantining.
The Governor of New York has issued a new rule that if 5% of an on-campus population (resident and commuting students and on-campus employees) or 100 people – whichever is smaller - test positive, in-person classes will end for two weeks and all instruction and extra-curricular activities will be remote. This order is the basis for the action at Oneonta. Diligent and responsible action by all of us can help Protect New Paltz from a temporary or even entire-semester shutdown.
I do not believe any student or employee wants to be the one whose inability or unwillingness to change behavior this semester could end on-campus learning for everyone. Most importantly, personal recklessness can lead to an outbreak that sickens or kills people who may be more vulnerable to the illness than you are. Please exercise that personal responsibility, to yourself and others.
We understand that colleges and universities are asking difficult things of students in the face of this pandemic – to provide you with the experiences that you want and we want you to have. Masks are uncomfortable, the social experiences you seek are often not possible, and many opportunities are missing. Please be patient as you settle into the rhythm of the semester, as you learn new ways to engage in activities and new, safe ways to meet and interact with people. Things will get better.
We hope that as a responsible member of our community – remember, we’re in this together – you will stay safe and help keep others safe. The consequences if you don’t, for you and our community, are significant.
Donald P. Christian