By Tommy Gagliano
On the morning of October 7th, a B-line News Addition was sent to Binghamton University students, with a message from President Harvey Stenger. The note stated that, starting the following day (October 8th), all in-person classes would transition to remote learning for a two-week period. The announcement was not unexpected for most students; over the week or so prior, COVID cases had been steadily rising, both among the BU community and in Broome County as a whole. The number of total cases among students and faculty, as measured by surveillance testing, Decker Student Health Services testing, and self-reported tests, was very close to the New York State Higher Education limit of 100 (in a two-week period) that requires a mandatory pause. President Stenger stated in the email that “…although we are currently under the New York State Department of Health threshold, the University will move to a remote learning model that will help contain the virus and bring it down to an acceptable level.”
In the email, Stenger specifies that this is not a shutdown, and that Binghamton University’s campus will remain open. Residence halls and libraries will remain open, medical and counseling services will still be available, and dining halls will be open for take-out only. All in-person athletic and club events will be cancelled during the two-week pause, and OCCT buses will follow the weekend schedule.
While those oblivious to the situation may assume that the two-week pause is due to partying and other irresponsible behavior from students, evidence suggests that is not the case. BU was consistently reporting a very low number of positive tests throughout August and September. Things only started to change at the beginning of October, at the same time cases in Broome County as a whole began to spike. A September 28th tweet from Governor Cuomo suggests a possible cause, and it isn’t college students. He cites three “clusters” in his tweet that he blames for the rising number of cases in the Southern Tier, one of which is “a pub in Broome County.” If this pub acted as a super-spreader, it is likely that Broome County brought the virus to the students, rather than the other way around.
President Stenger was adamant that the transition to remote learning will be temporary, though only time will tell what will happen on October 22nd, when the two-week pause comes to an end. “We remain committed to in-person instruction for the fall semester and will work to make our transition back to in-person activities as quickly as we can under Department of Health guidelines while ensuring the safety of students, faculty and staff,” he said in his B-line message. “This is an unfortunate bump in the road. However, it is part of the necessary new reality that we are living in. We will encounter more of these and we will get through them if we work together.”