In a year like no other, the Buffalo State College community was able to successfully navigate the fall semester without any shutdowns or significant outbreaks of COVID-19.
How did we do it? The key was a multi-pronged approach, which involved advance planning before the semester started, testing throughout the semester, and buy-in from the campus community, said Rock D. Doyle, assistant vice president for health and wellness.
“There were multiple things we did,” he said. “At the beginning of the semester, we required a quarantine for students returning for the fall, which was very important. Once pool testing became available, our goal was to limit any spread of the virus in the residence halls. We were able to really identify when there was a problem.”
Contact tracers through the Weigel Wellness Center were able to quickly identify who needed to isolate after a positive test, and make sure that was happening, Doyle said.
“My staff was fantastic,” he said. “The tracing was unbelievable. We had high-level contact tracers. We really did our due diligence with it.”
“Our campus community really stepped up. At the end of the day, people understood their civic responsibilities.”
Staff members from Weigel, Residence Life, and Dining Services worked hard to ensure that both students and quarantined students were comfortable and safe throughout the semester. Doyle also acknowledged the outstanding efforts of Buffalo State’s faculty, who not only made sure students remained safe in the classroom, but also were responsive and understanding when new guidance from health authorities shifted campus policies.
“Staff from around campus worked long hours to make sure the semester went well, and testing went off without a hitch,” Doyle said. “Their work was critical to our success.”
Students were also required to self-monitor using the COVID-19 Daily Symptom Tracker app every day, and provide results before entering a classroom, which also helped in containing any positive cases, Doyle said. They also received a PPE kit at the start of the semester, which included a mask and hand sanitizer.
“Doing all of this really set us up for a good fall 2020,” he said.
A number of resources were also available online for students to assist them throughout the semester.
SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras also mandated that students be tested before exiting campus for the Thanksgiving holiday. This was done to ensure that students would not be returning home with the virus.
The end-of-semester testing was held at two sites on campus, Rockwell Hall and the Sports Arena, and relied on faculty and staff volunteers. Students complied with the testing, and resident students who tested positive isolated on campus, while commuters who tested positive isolated at home,
“Our campus community really stepped up,” Doyle said. “At the end of the day, people understood their civic responsibilities.”
Out of the 3,061 tests administered, only 41 tests (1.4 percent) came back positive during the end-of-semester testing.
While testing was important, checking in on the mental health of students throughout the semester was also critical, especially those who were in isolation, Doyle said.
“We offered some different programming, and I think it meant a lot to the students,” he said.
Vice President for Student Affairs Timothy Gordon said students, faculty, and staff handled the semester well, despite the challenges.
“Our community pulled together to support a successful fall semester,” he said. “Students did a good job with safety protocols including mask wearing, keeping their distance, and not gathering in large groups. Faculty and staff did a good job continuing to support testing, the use and completion of the Daily symptom tracker, and adjusting as guidance and other components related to COVID 19 were embraced.”
Faculty and staff members were flexible when they needed to be throughout the semester, supported the safety procedures, and worked to make sure any concerns were quickly addressed, Gordon said. They also worked to find ways to keep students engaged virtually, and ensure that students had the support they needed.
“I am proud of the ways in which the Buffalo State community pulled together and supported each other,” he said. “We were able to have low levels, quickly respond to emerging concerns, adapt to rapidly changing guidance, and focus on delivering the best education possible.”
Photos by Bruce Fox, Campus Photographer