March 13, 2020
UUP members are responding with calm and cooperation in the face of an unprecedented upheaval, as the final weeks of the spring semester unfold during a pandemic.
Following the governor's announcement that SUNY and CUNY campuses would convert to mostly online education for the rest of the semester, UUP President Fred Kowal and other statewide officers began working with SUNY and the governor’s office on details of how such a massive switch would affect members and work conditions. As of this writing, UUP did not have all the answers, but continued to work with the state to address members’ questions.
UUP also canceled several upcoming events and meetings, as well as travel to campuses by officers and staff. As of this writing, no decision had been made on the Spring Delegate Assembly, scheduled for April 24-25 at The Desmond Hotel in Albany.
The SUNY teaching hospitals in Brooklyn, Stony Brook and Syracuse prepared for the worst-case scenario of playing a front-line role in the response to a pandemic.
“This is a health care crisis, and teaching hospitals such as Downstate are at the front lines,” said Rowena Blackman-Stroud, president of the UUP Downstate Medical Center Chapter in Brooklyn. “Our members are professionals who are working hard. They are putting themselves on the front line of care. We must be mindful of that and provide them with the resources they need to help those who fall ill during this difficult time.”
Kowal applauded how members reacted, and he encouraged members to contact him or other statewide officers with questions and concerns.
“As academics and professionals in such a vast public university system, we try to anticipate the most likely emergencies, and plan the best way to respond to them,” Kowal said. “An outbreak of an entirely new disease, about which there is still very little known, is one of the worst crises we could imagine, and frankly, not the most likely one we could have prepared for. But the response of our members could absolutely be called heroic.”
SUNY hospitals, staff on the front lines
At Upstate Medical University, several emergency measures are in place, according to information provided by UUP Chapter President Richard Veenstra.
Visitation policies have been tightened, visitors who have recently been in any of several countries with severe outbreaks are prohibited from the hospital complex, and the hospital started a community hotline to provide public guidance on whether and where people should seek medical care if they believe they have contracted COVID-19, the illness caused by the corona virus.
Upstate University Hospital is one of six sites in New York designated as a COVID-19 testing site. As of this writing, the hospital’s testing program had not yet started.
Stony Brook University Hospital is converting two areas for the emergency: one to be used for screening of suspected COVID-19 patients, and one to be used as in isolation unit to treat patients diagnosed with COVID-19, according to information provided by UUP Chapter President Carolyn Kube. The hospital has also started screening patients who arrive at the hospital’s emergency department in private vehicles; those who require further evaluation are directed to the newly designated screening area in the hospital.
“Mask usage is being tightly control and monitored; as of last week the hospital felt they had enough N95 masks but were trying to get more supplies,” Kube said in an email response March 13.
At the time she wrote, the hospital had no testing kits but Kube added that, “I do know that the hospital has made every effort to reach out to public officials and the governor to try to expedite getting the tests and needed supplies prior to any exponential increase or spread of the virus.