For Immediate Release
December 1, 2020
United University Professions has released spring semester safety guidelines to stem the spread of coronavirus on campus and in area communities once classes restart in February.
In its report, “United University Professions – Guidelines for Spring 2021: Keeping Our Campuses Safe During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” the union calls on SUNY to impose stringent testing mandates as students arrive on campus; dramatically increase surveillance testing; ensure that campuses have sufficient on-campus contact tracing capabilities; and to improve air quality, filtration and ventilation in campus buildings.
“Our report offers the strongest possible set of guidelines for SUNY to keep students, faculty and staff, and surrounding communities safe during the upcoming semester,” said UUP President Frederick E. Kowal. “The recommendations are built upon lessons learned from the fall semester and the excellent work that SUNY has done since the arrival of Chancellor (Jim) Malatras.
“Let's hope that this is the last semester we must prepare for in this fashion,” he continued. “But until a vaccine has been widely distributed, UUP will continue to push for measures that we believe will protect our students, our members and our communities.”
The 10-page report recommends that returning students get two mandatory baseline polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests four to seven days apart at the start of the semester. Students should be quarantined until they twice test negative. Students with documentation of a negative PCR test within 72 hours of returning to campus would only have be tested once, four days after their return.
Once classes begin, the campus population—students living on campus or in the local community, and any employees working on campus—should be tested every two weeks through the end of the semester. Students who test positive for COVID-19 should be quarantined in housing separate from residence halls.
The union, which represents 37,000 academics and professional employees at SUNY’s public hospitals and four-year campuses, also wants minimum 90-day stockpiles of Personal Protective Equipment—including N95 masks, isolation gowns, face shields, booties, gloves and head coverings—available for front-line workers at SUNY’s academic medical centers in Brooklyn, Stony Brook and Syracuse; Buffalo-area hospitals; and the Long Island Veterans Home.
SUNY’s hospitals were beset with severe shortages of PPE at the start of the pandemic in March. SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University in Brooklyn was designated as a COVID-19-only facility by the governor. Stony Brook University Hospital was also inundated with COVID-19 patients in the spring.
UUP also wants SUNY to provide housing to hospital employees who have contact with the public, such as emergency room reception workers, who request it to protect family members from possible exposure to the coronavirus. UUP paid for hotel rooms for dozens of front-line workers who were afraid of infecting their families due to possible exposure at work.
“At our academic medical centers, our health care workers face additional risks which must be addressed,” Kowal said. “Our hospitals and nursing home must have sufficient PPE to truly protect our members, our co-workers, our patients, and our families.”
In the report, the union lays out possible actions to improve air filtration in campus buildings, including upgrading heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) filtration to the highest possible level (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value 13); adding portable HEPA/MERV filters in student health clinics, dorms and other areas where high-level filtration isn’t possible; increasing airflow to occupied spaces; and opening windows and doors to bring in fresh outdoor air.
UUP also recommends that campus administrations:
- Stage on-campus flu vaccination clinics so students and faculty can easily get flu shots;
- Work with Employee Assistance Program (EAP) committees and EAP coordinators to promote mental health resources available to employees;
- Require everyone on campus to wear face masks indoors, unless they are in private residences or offices; and
- Limit visitor access to campuses.
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but there is a long and difficult journey to that relief,” said Kowal. “The work that we do is necessary to ensure the safety of our students, our members and the communities that host SUNY campuses.”
Since March, UUP has been outspoken about the need for wide-ranging safety precautions to stem the spread of the coronavirus. In June, the union released safety guidelines for the fall semester; SUNY ignored the recommendations until Malatras became SUNY chancellor Aug. 21. Those guidelines included mandatory and recurring COVID-19 testing for on-campus students and staff, contact tracing and isolation plans, and social distancing mandates.
SUNY has enacted a number of UUP’s guidelines, including requiring baseline and surveillance testing for students. In November, UUP and SUNY agreed to extend free, mandatory coronavirus testing for UUP-represented employees through the end of spring semester.