With students due to arrive at the SUNY New Paltz campus in only three weeks to begin their fall semester, the college has released new COVID-19 policies that signal a partial return to normalcy. Many of the protocols that were imposed when in-person instruction resumed last spring have been relaxed – for students, faculty and staff who can prove that they’ve been fully vaccinated. Major campus events including public lectures, student events, Commencement and Convocation will resume, and vaccinated visitors will be allowed onto the campus as well.
“Our goal has been to develop policies that prioritize the safety of our entire campus population at a time when case numbers are again rising in parts of the country with lagging vaccination rates. We also recognize a need to remain consistent with the realities of daily life as our communities transition out of many pandemic restrictions,” reads a July 29 announcement from SUNY New Paltz Media Relations spokesperson Chrissie Williams.
The “systemwide return to pre-pandemic campus activity” touted by New York State officials in May included a mandate that “all students at public universities will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to attend in-person classes this fall.” However, that requirement will not go into effect until at least one vaccine has full FDA approval, as opposed to the Emergency Use Authorization that expedited the release of the three vaccines currently in use. The FDA process could take up to six months, according to the SUNY New Paltz press release.
Nor will the vaccinated campus community be required to mask up, despite alarming news of spiking transmission rates of the Delta variant of the virus and the new guidance issued on July 27 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommending indoor mask use, even for the fully vaccinated. “As of this writing, that guidance is only a recommendation, and has not yet been adopted by the New York State Department of Health or by SUNY,” the press release noted. Moreover, the advisory was targeted to areas with “substantial” or “high” COVID-19 transmission rates; rates in New York State were still categorized as “moderate” as of the date of the announcement.
“We Not Me” is the policy being adopted this fall at SUNY New Paltz with regard to vaccination status, counting on disincentives rather than mandates to motivate the reluctant. While students who opt out of getting their jabs will be allowed to take classes in person, they won’t be able to live in the dorms. They will have to wear masks at all times while indoors on campus and to “maintain, where practicable, six feet of social distance.” While vaccinated students will no longer be required to check in daily for an online health screening, this protocol will continue for the unvaccinated, and they – as well as unvaccinated staff – will have to be tested for COVID-19 weekly. Any student who tests positive will be required to isolate for ten days at Awosting Hall.
Considering the worrisome upsurge in Delta Variant cases, the college has acknowledged that “members of our community will have varying comfort levels around unmasked people,” and has adopted a policy to “encourage” the voluntary wearing of masks even by the vaccinated. “Any member of our community may choose to wear a mask at any time, for any reason,” says the announcement. It also notes that “Faculty who prefer all students to wear masks in in-person classrooms have the authority to establish such a classroom management policy, just as they have authority to establish policies around cell phone use, attendance and other aspects of student classroom behavior.”
A few classes will be closed to unvaccinated students, where the danger of transmission is high and instruction cannot be provided remotely or with use of masks. These are primarily music performance sections. Mask-wearing by all will be compulsory in the college Health Center, but optional in offices, the Samuel Dorsky Museum and the Sojourner Truth Library.
On-campus events will be able to resume at full capacity, thanks to upgrades to air filtration and HVAC systems. Fully vaccinated visitors in indoor spaces and at campus events “will not need to wear masks on campus, though they are encouraged to do so. Visitors who are unvaccinated must wear masks in indoor spaces while on campus.”
Of course, the announcement notes, “These updated protocols are subject to change as COVID-19-related conditions evolve. SUNY New Paltz or SUNY may impose additional requirements if community transmission rates rise.” To read the full press release, visit https://sites.newpaltz.edu/news/2021/07/overview-of-fall-2021-covid-19-policies.