S.U. takes additional action after 45 COVID-19 cases now found in emerging cluster

syracuse sign.jpg
Syracuse University sign (photo: CNYCentral).

Syracuse University says it is taking additional action after 45 cases of COVID-19 have now been found related to off-campus gatherings late last week.

The university says it expects to confirm additional cases in the coming days and is taking immediate action to curb the further spread of the emerging cluster:

  • All in-person student activities, except classes, associated coursework, and intercollegiate athletics, are temporarily paused
  • Social gatherings on and off-campus are now limited to 5 people
  • Greek houses are asked to adopt a "no visitors" policy
  • All students are asked to "rededicate" themselves to best health practices

Students that may have been exposed to the virus at social gatherings on Walnut Avenue last week or over the weekend are being asked to report to the testing center at The Stadium, otherwise known as the Carrier Dome, beginning tomorrow at 10 a.m.

The emerging cluster seems to be the result of one or more students returning to campus after traveling outside of Central New York to visit another college late last week, the university says. The new cases have been traced directly or indirectly to gatherings on Walnut Avenue.

University officials are working with the Onondaga County Health Department on contact tracing efforts. Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon tweeted this evening about the clusters, saying around 3,000 students were tested in the past few days, leading to the 45 new positives. He says over 2,000 students will be tested tomorrow.

"We have spent the last 6 months building up the infrastructure to fight this virus in real-time. We will box-in these clusters & any other potential future clusters our community may face," the tweet thread reads.

The County Executive's twitter statement also mentions an additional cluster in Onondaga County unrelated to the cases at SU; 5-10 cases are present at a "local manufacturer", which is not named.

A spokesperson for Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh provided a statement on the cluster at Syracuse University, writing “The report is another reminder of the serious risk COVID-19 continues to present and how vigilant all of us, including our student community, need to be at all times.”

The university's new regulations mean students will wake up to a very different campus on Wednesday. The temporary pause on in-person activities will mean student organizations will have to pivot quickly to remote models of operation.

"It's definitely a big shift. We are already communicating with our members in terms of how we'll be moving forward with production," said Lilly Umana, General Manager at CitrusTV.

CitrusTV is an all-student run television station that produces live content every day; they'll now have to find ways to produce their content, including news coverage of Syracuse University, on short notice.

"It's a quick turnaround, we had shows that were supposed to happen tonight, shows that were supposed to happen tomorrow and the rest of the week," said Umana, "We saw this potentially coming at some point this semester. It's about communicating that plan with the rest of the station, making sure everyone is on the same page."

Some students are taking precautionary measures into their own hands. Many of SU's classes use a hybrid system, where students are in a physical classroom on some days of the week and tuning into lectures remotely on others. At least one student is opting to take all his classes online to avoid coming to class after this recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

"I probably won't go to most of my classes in person this week just out of precaution, I would rather stay safe than take the risk you know," said Gabriel Prepetit, a Syracuse University Junior.

Other students are left frustrated after learning that the cluster of cases stemmed from off-campus parties and students traveling outside Central New York, both of which are in direct violation of the student safety pledge taken by students at the start of the school year.

"It’s just disappointing to see it’s coming from people going home when they tell us not to, or the gatherings which are breaking the rules," said James Vounessea, a Syracuse University Sophomore.

Other students expressed concern after seeing the spike in cases but ultimately weren't shocked that irresponsible actions were to blame.

"I thought it was getting a little bit better, but with people leaving and going away for weekends I'm not that surprised," said Laura Kick, a Syracuse University Junior.

Syracuse University's COVID-19 dashboard does not reflect the rise in cases, which was reported to the campus community via e-mail this evening. A university spokesperson said the dashboard is only updated once a day, so the new rise in cases won't show up until Wednesday.

For the time being the dashboard shows 25 active cases in Central New York and 27 total positive tests contributing to the 100 person limit set by New York State. If there are 100 active cases on a college campus within a fourteen day monitoring period, a school must temporarily switch to all online classes. SU's current monitoring period will end on October 9th, but it's unclear how close they are to the 100 case limit following today's events.

University officials said in the statement to the campus that they expect case numbers to rise as contact tracing efforts continue.