College president steps down after 700 students test positive for virus

At State University of New York at Oneonta, President Barbara Jean Morris has stepped down after hundreds of students test positive for COVID-19.

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The president of State University of New York at Oneonta, has stepped down from the role after a coronavirus outbreak on campus.

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According to The New York Times, the COVID-19 outbreak at SUNY Oneonta was the worst at any public university in the entire state. University president Barbara Jean Morris resigned after over 700 students contracted the coronavirus, causing in-person classes to be shut down. A special virus control crew was sent to the campus to try to contain the virus and avoid spreading the illness to the rest of the upstate New York area, the report detailed.

At SUNY Oneonta the outbreak began with two cases in late August which quickly spread among students. The university initially zeroed in on contact tracing, attributing the cases to parties near campus, which resulted in five suspensions, the Times reported. Students said group gatherings off-campus were also common. After the first cases were revealed on Aug. 25, and the number rose to 105 students on campus with coronavirus by Aug. 30.

On social media, students chronicled their exodus from contaminated dorm rooms into separate quarantine locations by officials wearing hazmat suits. The outlet revealed students were also seen on social media partying in the designated quarantine dormitories.

The outbreak at the university resulted in a state review and a revamp of coronavirus guidelines across the SUNY system. According to the NYT, Morris’ resignation was not directly related to the COVID-19 crisis. Dennis Craig was named as a temporary replacement as the process to find a new president continues. He recently served as interim president at SUNY Purchase, where a comprehensive coronavirus re-opening plan held the campus of 4000 students to only seven positive cases.

“SUNY Purchase has one of the best plans out of the SUNY system,” the system chancellor, Jim Malatras, said at the news conference. “They brought back about 25 percent of their students and they have had regular testing and a very low positivity rate. President Craig led the way on that.”

The Oneonta community welcomed the change in leadership, according to the report.

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“I think that we all recognize that this was a time where change was needed. It’s a time for a new start,” Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig told The Times. “There had been some loss of trust here amongst both the college community and the city community. Trust is everything. Sometimes you need to make changes in order to rebuild trust.”

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