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New York sets COVID-19 case threshold for closing colleges

Mike Desmond / WBFO News

Colleges in New York will be required to return to remote learning for at least two weeks if either 100 cases of COVID-19 are diagnosed, or 5% of that institution’s population tests positive, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday.

It’s the first time the state has set a threshold for when colleges will be required to shut down in-person learning as thousands of students head back to class for the fall semester.

"We should anticipate clusters," Cuomo said.

"We are going to set a threshold that says if a college has 100 cases, or a number of cases equal to 5% of their population or more — whichever is less — they must go to remote learning for two weeks, at which time we will reassess the situation."

A college or university’s diagnosed cases would have to meet that threshold over a two-week period to enter remote learning.

If an institution has to move to remote learning, students who live on campus would be able to stay in their housing during that time, Cuomo said. At the end of the two weeks, the state would reassess whether that college or university can move back to in-person learning.

A similar threshold has been set for grade schools by the state, which are expected to start classes in the coming weeks. Whether those classes will be held in person or online varies by district, and by family.

If the infection rate in a single region exceeds 9% of those tested over a seven-day average, school districts in that area will be required to close, according to the state.

As of Thursday, none of the state’s 10 districts were close to an infection rate of that level. The highest infection rate, as of now, is in Western New York, where 2% of those tested came back positive on Wednesday, the latest data available from the state.

Several of those cases have been traced back to a food processing plant in Chautauqua County, according to Gareth Rhodes, a top official at the state Department of Financial Services who’s currently assisting with the state’s response to COVID-19.

The statewide infection rate on Wednesday, Cuomo said, was at .9%. It’s been below 1% now for more than two weeks, which has resulted in either a drop or plateau in deaths and hospitalizations, depending on the day, during that time.

On Wednesday, a total of 490 people were still hospitalized because of the virus in New York, and four new deaths were reported by the state.

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