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Homeland Security

New York State

Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo Deploys SWAT Team to SUNY Oneonta to Contain COVID-19 Cluster

August 30, 2020

A rush transcript is available below:

Governor Cuomo: We have a new chancellor of the State University System of New York and he happens to be on the phone with us, Jim Malatras. SUNY, I think, is lucky because Jim has been involved with the entire COVID management system from day one so he gets it clearly. He's brought that orientation to SUNY - he's action today at Oneonta that I think is right and we have him on the phone and I'd like him to speak about the situation at Oneonta and the actions he's taking today. Chancellor Malatras?

Chancellor Malatras: Thank you, Governor. Thank you, everyone. We have had reports of several large parties of our students at Oneonta last week and unfortunately because of those larger gatherings there were several students who were symptomatic of COVID and upon testing we found that 20 were positive for the COVID virus. As a result, we deployed the SUNY Upstate Medical Team to down to SUNY Oneonta, one of our premier medical research facilities to test all students, the nearly 3,000 or so at Oneonta, which began on Friday and right now as of this morning we have 71 positive confirmed cases up from 20. And because of our efforts, we're confirming another 34 tests, so we're about 105 positive tests at SUNY Oneonta, which is about 3 percent of the total student and faculty population that are on campus at SUNY Oneonta this year. As a result of the increase of tests - the positive tests for COVID - we are going to be closing the SUNY Oneonta campus for two weeks for instruction and we will assess the situation working with the state and local health departments after two weeks. I want to thank the Governor and Commissioner Zucker; they've deployed case investigators and contact tracers to help with the situation and the state is deploying a SWAT team to come into the Oneonta community to set up three rapid results testing facilities so that any resident of the Oneonta community can be tested. It's a 15-minute test. The hotline will be, and the locations will be, released on Monday and we will start testing on Wednesday because many of the students, of course, live off-campus. There's a lot of interaction in the community. There's a private college nearby, so we want to manage the, any potential spread and address it immediately. But we're taking this action because we think it's necessary in order to show folks that this can spread quickly and we have to address it quickly­­ - and the other piece that we wanted to mention, because the Governor mentioned it, we understand students are coming back, we understand people want to party. But individual responsibility plays into the collective good, so your individual actions have enormous consequences on everyone else in your college community. Five students in Oneonta have been suspended for holding parties against the college policy. Three organizations, campus organizations, have been suspended and that goes along - we're going to be tough not because we want to ruin their fun, but this is a different time and this goes to what other campuses have been doing. We had to suspend 43 students at SUNY Plattsburgh for similar things because we have to address this during the new-normal. So, we will be doing that today. We're going to be meeting with the local community leaders and the school to go discuss that at 1 p.m. today, so thank you, Governor.

Governor Cuomo: Thank you very much, Jim. And just to echo what Mr. Malatras discussed– and this should be a message to the private colleges also. I understand college life. Jim said, "students like to party." I never used the expression "party;" I said "socialize," which I thought was a more appropriate term to use in the academic setting. But we understand that and I understand the tension between the school administration and the student population, but if you– the lesson is always the same. If you are not prepared, if you don't have the right precautions, or if you don't enforce the precautions, then the virus spreads and then you have to take more dramatic action which is more disruptive and generates a more energy, a more negative energy. So private colleges, I think if you are slow to enforce the rules, then the virus will spread and then you will have to take more dramatic action. If a private college doesn't take the dramatic action, the local health department can make the college take close-down procedures. If the local community doesn't do it, the state can do it. A 3 percent infection rate, you know, that's a high infection rate in a congregate situation. Three percent is high in a dense environment, like a dense urban environment where you have people taking public transportation; it's a crowded environment. Three percent is high, so I think the Chancellor is doing the exact right thing at Oneonta and I think he's taking the right actions across SUNY, and I think the private colleges should really follow the example. As I said before, I think the colleges are the canary in the coal mine. I think what we're seeing at colleges we're going to see at the K-12 setting when those schools start to reopen. I know there's a lot of conversation in districts across the state. I speak to many school administrators, many parents about this. They have to have the right plan in place. Look at the colleges. Look at what's going on. Have the right plan and be in a position to actually implement the plan. Some school districts were having conversations about testing and what they'll do in terms of testing.

It's one thing to have a plan that says you're going to do X number of tests. It's another thing to actually have the capacity to do that number of tests. So it's not just the plan. It's the implementation of the plan, right? And bureaucracies are not the best change-oriented systems and this is a major change for a bureaucracy and this is a test that has to be completed quickly so it's an entirely new system, an entirely new task that has to be completed very quickly so a plan on paper is one thing. Being able to do it is a second question that has to be asked and my advice to the K-12 is the same - err on the side of caution. Err on the side of caution. If you go to in-person education and you are not prepared or you can't actually implement the plan and do it on day one, you will see the numbers go up and then you'll see more disruption. So err on the side of caution, smart plan you can implement, and if you're not ready, better you start when you are ready. You know? Everybody is anxious to get back to school. I get it. But everybody should be anxious to get back to a safe school, right? We're opening safe schools this year - that's what we're doing. Not just schools - we're opening safe schools.

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