Binghamton University Goes On Temporary Pause Amid Area COVID-19 Spikes

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — Binghamton University is the latest SUNY campus to move to a two-week “pause” starting Thursday, Oct. 8. The decision comes amid spikes in COVID-19 cases across Broome County.

Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger spoke alongside SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras and Broome County Executive Jason Garnar to announce the decision to move classes online. (Photo courtesy Binghamton University)

As of Tuesday night, BU had not yet met SUNY’s threshold for moving classes online.

University President Harvey Stenger, County Executive Jason Garnar and SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras spoke on the choice to proactively move classes online Wednesday morning.

“You want to make sure cases still aren’t growing, even if they’re underneath the 100 threshold over a two week period,” Malatras said. “To us — where is it trending? Is it trending upward or downward? We want to see it going down. We want to see the positivity rate remaining low.”

Per state guidance, campuses with 100 or more COVID-19 cases over a two-week period, or a number equal to at least 5 percent of the campus population, must move to remote learning.

As of Wednesday, testing at BU demonstrated a 4.5 percent positivity rate over a seven-day rolling average, but Malatras said the positivity rate of a three-day rolling average is hopeful, at just 3 percent.

Since the start of the semester, BU has conducted nearly 12,000 COVID-19 tests — the most of any of the four SUNY university centers, which includes Stony Brook, Buffalo and Albany. The university will increase its daily surveillance testing efforts from 200 to 800 tests each day, according to Malatras.

The cases at Binghamton University are evenly spread between students living on and off campus, Stenger said. Those assigned to daily surveillance testing are not chosen randomly, either, he added.

“We’re actually trying to find people who could be infected. So we’re looking at those populations where the risk levels could be higher, and asking them to come in to test,” Stenger said. “Now the downside, you end up getting more positive that way, but on the upside, you find the positive cases.”

All classes will move online, but residence halls and campus services will remain open with social distancing. If officials then see cases decrease after two weeks, Malatras said they will look to lift restrictions.

Garnar and Stenger both emphasized that spikes in COVID-19 cases in Broome County are driven by community-spread and not students.

Even so, Stenger said the county and campus must coordinate campus reopening efforts, even if the spread of the virus slows on campus before it does in the county.

“We need to have a safe community in order for all of us to return to normal, so if one of them doesn’t go down, perhaps the other one should stay where they are if they are going down,” Stenger said. “But again, we’re going to answer those questions when we get to the point where we’re going to need to answer them.”

Still, Stenger said he anticipates cases to fall countywide as the campus pause increases awareness of the virus.

The decision comes as the result of conversations between the university and the county health department, SUNY and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office. It comes after SUNY Cortland announced it would also go on a two-week pause effective Wednesday.