New York’s colleges and universities that are testing at least a quarter of their on-campus student and faculty population can be exempt from going to full remote learning if COVID-19 positivity rates increase, Governor Andrew Cuomo said Friday.
He set the testing minimum at 25% of total on-campus students, faculty and staff tested weekly for a college or university to avoid being switched to full-time remote learning if positivity rates increase, up to a rolling 14-day 5% positivity threshold.
Otherwise, any public or private higher education institution who is not testing at this threshold will be required to go on pause if there are 100 people in the on-campus community testing positive during a 14-day rolling period.
And regardless of testing protocol, all colleges and universities that report a campus positivity rate exceeding 5% over a 14-day rolling period will be required to keep students remote only, Cuomo said.
The goal is to encourage more on-campus testing for COVID-19, as well as helping schools better pinpoint the source of outbreaks before having to switch to full-time remote learning.
“We know that testing is the key to accelerating our economic reopening prior to reaching herd immunity, we’ve been moving down that path we just need to increase the volume of testing,” Cuomo said in a release Friday. “This new guidance will not only incentivize Colleges and Universities to ramp up their testing efforts, it will also give these schools more flexibility before having to shift to remote learning and pause campus activities so more schools can remain open without jeopardizing safety.”
Any campus that still reports more than 5% positivity rates after switching to remote learning for 14 days could then be required by the state Department of Health to continue suspension of on-campus classes or activity, including athletics.
The state guidance also stipulates that local authorities have the discretion to go even further with restrictions on colleges and universities: "local health departments retain the ability to restrict in-person learning before these thresholds are met or, as the situation may warrant, impose additional restrictions to prevent or mitigate a public health hazard," the state Department of Health said in its memo.