15 new COVID cases in county Utica College, SU discipline students for not following regs

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UTICA — New positive cases of COVID-19 remain low, county officials reported on Friday, with 15 new confirmed cases and no new deaths. The county has 96 known active cases, officials said, as gyms and fitness centers are poised to reopen as soon as Monday and area colleges have welcomed students back on campus.

Eight county residents were hospitalized with COVID-19, including one at Rome Memorial Hospital, seven in the Mohawk Valley Health System. One is a nursing home patient receiving acute care at MVHS.

Regionally, the Mohawk Valley’s daily positive-test rate over the past seven days was 0.5%, lower than all regions except the North Country and Southern Tier, and same as in the Finger Lakes. Its average number of new cases each day over the past week was 2.24, lower than all but those regions. It had been 1.94 on Thursday. Herkimer County had five positive results from 330 tests reported Thursday and a positive rate of 1.5%, while Oneida and the other counties in the region had positive rates below 1%.

The statewide numbers were 0.8% positive and 3.18 cases.

According to published reports, 12 Utica College students have been removed from campus and must attend the college online for the fall semester for violating the college’s zero tolerance policy on social gatherings.

College officials said campus safety officers investigated complaints of loud, disruptive behavior in a college dormitory. The reports say the officers found 12 students in one room without wearing masks or social distancing.

Utica College President Laura Casamento, via a statement on the college’s Facebook page on Friday, outlined the college’s plans for COVID-19 testing this fall.

“Beginning August 31, we will be doing weekly COVID pooled testing of all students and employees on the Utica campus through the end of the fall semester,” Casamento’s statement said. “Pooled testing of residential students and student-athletes will begin next week. Individuals testing positive will be notified within 48 hours.”

“I know that not a lot of institutions like Utica College are taking this step, but I think it is important that we keep the confidence of our students, faculty, staff, parents, and all the communities we serve,” the statement said. “Let’s be clear: expansive testing and surveillance protocols do not replace the need for mask-wearing, social distancing, and other critical health and safety measures. Mask up, Pioneers.”

The incident at Utica College comes after 23 Syracuse University students were suspended for following a mass gathering on the university’s campus quad on Tuesday night.

Syracuse officials announced the disciplinary action late Thursday and said they were reviewing security camera footage to identify additional students seen on video crowding into the campus Quad Wednesday night in violation of rules limiting crowds and requiring masks.

The gathering drew a sharp rebuke earlier from Vice Chancellor J. Michael Haynie, who said participants had undercut efforts to make residential learning possible.

“We have one shot to make this happen,” Haynie wrote in a letter to students. “The world is watching, and they expect you to fail. Prove them wrong.”

Social media has been filled with such gatherings in recent weeks as college students make their way back to campuses nationwide.

Purdue University suspended 36 students for going to a party. Other suspensions have been reported at Virginia Tech, St. Olaf College in Minnesota and Radford University in Virginia.

Some universities have brought students back only to reverse course and move classes online amid outbreaks linked in some cases to student housing and parties. Notre Dame and Michigan State universities are among the latest to announce the switch this week. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said it would revert to remote learning after clusters of the virus were discovered in dorms, a fraternity house and other student housing.

As at other campuses, Syracuse students returning to campus were asked to sign a pledge to follow guidelines, which also include avoiding travel during the semester and submitting to virus testing. Campus security broke up Wednesday’s gathering, and the students identified so far received interim suspensions, which can be appealed.

In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office reported that the statewide infection rate was below 1% for the 14th straight day, and that the number of tests reported to the state Health Department set a new record, of 98,880. Three COVID-related deaths were reported Thursday, and none in New York City.

The total number of reported cases so far in the state stood at 428,512, and new cases were reported in 43 of 62 counties.

The Oneida County Health Department reported the following incidents of possible public exposure to a person confirmed to have COVID-19 and recommended anyone at the location at that time monitor themselves for symptoms:

Oneida County Public Market, Union Station in Utica, 9-9:45 a.m. Aug. 15; self-monitor through Aug. 29.

Cliff’s Local Market at Pinnacle Road, Sauquoit, 3:30-3:45 p.m. Aug. 7; self-monitor through Aug. 21.

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