Party Selfies and Hazmat Suits: How N.Y.’s Worst Campus Outbreak Unfolded
More than 670 students, about 10 percent of the population at SUNY Oneonta, became infected, forcing the campus to be shut down.
It was the middle of the night when a man in a hazmat suit led a first-year student from her dormitory at SUNY Oneonta to a van as she cried quietly, a scary experience later shared on social media. She had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Later that week, a photo appeared on social media of a dozen infected students partying in an isolation dorm and posing for a selfie, drawing the ire of students, parents and officials.
Those incidents seemed to highlight how SUNY Oneonta in upstate New York had seriously mishandled the pandemic, resulting in the worst outbreak of any college in New York State, with more than 670 cases, totaling about 10 percent of the campus student population.
In terms of the percentage of students infected, it is one of the most notable outbreaks on a campus anywhere in the country. As a result, officials had to cancel in-person classes for the fall and send students home.
Universities across the country have faced daunting challenges in trying to resume in-person instruction. But the disarray at SUNY Oneonta has left university officials scrambling to explain why they did not put in place a strict monitoring system to prevent the virus from gaining a foothold. The oversight of the broader State University of New York system has also been called into question.
Students, parents and staff members said they were dismayed that SUNY Oneonta did not require students to have negative virus tests before they arrived. Nor did the university test students once they came to campus. The university also did not closely prevent gatherings in off-campus housing.
The fallout has been swift.