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The need for hands-on training complicates SUNY's new COVID-19 testing plan

Eileen Buckley
Community colleges, like Erie Community College, can rely more heavily on hands-on training than four-year-schools.

The State University of New York is requiring every student to be tested for COVID-19 before they leave for Thanksgiving and tested again when they want to come back on campus for the spring semester. What happens when students are in class after Thanksgiving?

SUNY has been taking advantage of the health and research operations of Upstate University in Syracuse, sending tens of thousands of test samples there from across the vast SUNY system. Test results come back the next day.

It ties in with precautions like no returns to school after Thanksgiving, ending spring break and shortening the spring semester.

Erie Community College's mission of providing technical and work training is complicating SUNY's testing rules.

Like probably most community colleges, there are students who can't learn by Zoom because they have classes and programs that require hands-on work. Could high-tech auto mechanics be taught virtually?

That is why around 1,300 ECC students are on campus during the course of an average week. They will be there when four-year schools are shut down for the holidays, so they will be tested again and again.

"We will be required to test each and every one of those 1,300, I guess at Thanksgiving, again before the holiday break," said Interim President William Reuter, "and then if they do not get their own test, do not submit basically an affidavit that they've been tested prior to coming back in February, we will do pool testing for all students once they get back on campus."

Reuter said ECC is rotating campuses and hours to "hit" everyone, includiong evening students at the North Campus.

"And we have a team of testers that are conducting the tests at each of the campus locations and we immediately send them off to Upstate Medical," he said. "I think the cost is $15 per pool test."

Many students in programs involving hospital training are tested on the job site. Positive results are reported to the college and to Erie County.

"We work with the county," Reuter said. "They've employed a number of contact tracers, so every situation is fully investigated and vetted. And, yes, we've had some situations where we've had outside our poll testing, students have tested positive and we've done quarantine and that's both students and staff."

After nearly six weeks of testing more than 2,000 students, only two positives were found.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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