(Below is the text of a letter from UUP President Fred Kowal to Dr. Merryl H. Tisch, Chairman SUNY Board of Trustees, Dr. Tod Laursen, Provost & Senior Vice Chancellor State University of New York, and Robert Megna, Senior Vice Chancellor & Chief Operating Officer State University of New York expressing UUP concerns about reopening campuses. A pdf version of the letter below (with attachments) is available: http://uuphost.org/alfred/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Kowalletter20200720.pdf).
July 20, 2020
Dear Chairman Tisch, Dr. Laursen and Mr. Megna:
I write to express UUP’s profound and deepening concern regarding aspects of the fall reopening plans that the state-operated SUNY campuses have issued.
As you know, virtually all State-operated SUNY campuses are planning to bring students back to campus and provide some portion of their classes and other services in-person. Based on our review of these plans, and input from our members, our concerns are numerous. While some are campus specific, two of critical concern are common to campuses across the State:
- The glaring absence of plans for baseline testing of students and faculty as they return to campus or surveillance testing thereafter. See the enclosed SUNY State-Operated Campus Testing Plans summarizing currently announced plans for this testing.
- Resistance by a growing number of campus administrations to fully embracing telecommuting (on a full or part-time basis) to the greatest extent possible as the best means of reducing density and maintaining social distancing.
Effectively addressing these issues requires clear direction and support both from System Administration and from the State. I am seeking your support in accomplishing this. It is critical to protecting our students, our members, our families, and our communities.
Current campus plans largely provide only for symptom monitoring and testing of symptomatic individual and their contacts. Waiting for symptoms to appear before testing is provided will miss asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic cases that could result in campus-closing outbreaks.
The CDC currently estimates that 40% of individuals with COVID 19 infections are asymptomatic and these individuals are 75% as infectious as symptomatic individuals. The CDC also estimates that 50% of COVID transmission by symptomatic individuals occurs prior to the onset of their symptoms. See, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/planning- scenarios.html#table-1. A recent Yale study found that more than 50% of COVID transmission occurs due to contact with asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic individuals. See, https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/07/02/2008373117
The NYS Department of Health’s recent study documented that much of the COVID 19 infection among nursing home residents occurred due to contact with asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic nursing home staff who unknowingly brought the infection to work. See, https://www.health.ny.gov/press/releases/2020/docs/nh_factors_report.pdf. To stop the devastating spread of COVID 19 in New York nursing homes, the Governor ultimately ordered that all nursing home staff regardless of symptoms be tested twice a week for COVID 19. See, https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/no-20230-continuing-temporary-suspension-and- modification-laws-relating-disaster-emergency
The Harvard Global Health Institute has concluded that “mitigation level” testing (i.e. testing of symptomatic individuals and contacts) is insufficient to stop COVID 19 outbreaks. “Suppression level” testing is necessary. “This requires large, proactive testing — including regular testing of asymptomatic people in high-risk environments such as nursing homes, colleges, and parts of the service industry — paired with rapid contact tracing and supported isolation (TTSI), as well as other measures.” https://globalhealth.harvard.edu/new-testing-targets-as-covid-19- outbreaks-grow-more-severe-most-u-s-states-still-fall-far-short-on-testing/ (emphasis added).
We are profoundly concerned about bringing 18 to 22 year-old young adults, who may be unwilling or literally unable to fully comply with social distancing rules, back to campus and into congregate living arrangements. As the pandemic spreads, currently driven in large part by young adults, bringing students back absent comprehensive baseline and surveillance testing may be setting our campuses up to become New York’s next nursing homes – or cruise ships.
We understand that committing to “suppression level” testing on SUNY campuses is a challenging task logistically and financially. However, one must consider the cost of testing weighed against the cost of once again shutting campuses down mid-semester, not to mention
the societal costs of containing another outbreak and the heartbreak of resulting illness and loss of life.
SUNY campus administrations have been advancing a variety of reasons for why comprehensive testing is allegedly unnecessary, impossible, or too expensive. In the meantime, many private colleges and universities across the state are implementing plans for initial baseline testing and subsequent surveillance testing of students and in many cases faculty. The enclosed NYS Private Colleges with Announced Testing Requirements summarizes the plans for comprehensive testing that private colleges across the state have publicly announced.
New York private colleges have recognized the critical need to provide for baseline and surveillance testing. They have found or are developing ways to address the hurdles of doing so and have not resorted to excuses for why such testing is allegedly unnecessary, impossible, or too expensive. As a result, their campuses, and their surrounding communities, will be better able to identify and address outbreaks that will almost certainly occur among college students living on or near campuses before they spread out of control.
Comparing the announced testing plans of these private campuses with the announced testing plans of the SUNY State-operated campuses is a jarring experience which paints a picture of a “Tale of Two Cities.” Our students and the academic and professional staff at our campuses should not be compelled to play roulette with possible exposure to asymptomatic spread on campus while private colleges recognize and proactively attempt to protect against the possibility.
To remedy this, plans for baseline and surveillance testing must be required at all of SUNY’s State-operated campuses. While the details of how this is done at each campus may vary, pooled saliva testing (currently being developed at Upstate) shows promise as one cost effective means to accomplish this.
As you know, UUP and the State entered an historic agreement this spring, which allows UUP- represented employees to telecommute on either a fulltime or part-time basis. That agreement expressly recognized that telecommuting is an important component of a multi- layered strategy to prevent the spread of COVID 19. The agreement provides that where operationally feasible, telecommuting requests shall be assigned or approved to the greatest extent possible.
Since that time, UUP has continued to advocate for extensions of the Telecommuting Agreement as it remains the best tool available to reduce density (particularly in professional staff work areas) and maintain social distancing on campus. To date, the State has agreed to extend the Telecommuting Agreement though close of business October 2. We are continuing to advocate that the Telecommuting Agreement should be extended at least through December 31, 2020.
Unfortunately, we are increasingly receiving reports of campuses that are failing to honor the full scope and goal of the Telecommuting Agreement. One particularly glaring example is SUNY Fredonia which has directed that all professional staff report back to work on campus (the sole exceptions being medically documented high-risk individuals and those with short-term childcare issues). Other requests to telecommute by staff who successfully telecommuted this spring, and whose presence on campus is not necessary to compete their duties, are being routinely denied across the board.
SUNY Fredonia, while the most egregious, is not the only example. Increasingly, we are receiving reports from multiple campuses across the state suggesting that telecommuting requests will be denied this fall unless medically necessary or required to address childcare issues. These are obviously circumstances where the ability to telecommute, if at all possible, will be critical. However, they should not, and must not, be the only circumstances.
Telecommuting requests, where operationally feasible, must continue to be approved if requested, regardless of the individual reason for the request. This is necessary to best assure that all our members, our families, and our students are protected to the extent possible. I seek your assistance in assuring that campuses are required to make this so.
The upcoming Fall Semester will be the most challenging in the history of SUNY. As our nation continues to fail in controlling the spread of the Coronavirus, the responsibility on all of us in higher education is to serve as a model for how such control can be attained. I believe that we are obligated to utilize all measures available to avoid the spread of this deadly disease.
Therefore, I continue to request that SUNY and the State of New York commit itself to robust baseline testing before the start of the semester and surveillance testing thereafter and that the employees of SUNY be granted liberal use of our telecommuting agreement. Both measures will serve to significantly reduce the chances for an outbreak of COVID-19 and protect our communities.
I look forward to working with you to ensure that SUNY is the benchmark for the nation when it comes to dealing with the Coronavirus. Hopefully, our collective efforts will prove successful.
Frederick E. Kowal, Ph.D. President
United University Professions AFT/NYSUT Local 2190
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor of NYS
Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Temporary President & Majority Leader of the NYS Senate
Assemblymember Carl E. Heastie, Speaker of the NYS Assembly
Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, Senate Committee on Higher Education Chair
Assemblymember Deborah J. Glick, Assembly Committee on Higher Education Chair
Dr. Howard A. Zucker, Commissioner, NYS Department of Health
Dr. Kristen Navarette, Medical Director, NYS DOH Center for Environmental Health Randi Weingarten, AFT President
Mario Cilento, NYS AFL-CIO President Andrew Pallotta, NYSUT President
Dr. Barbara Bowen, PSC President
Wayne Spence, PEF President
Mary Sullivan, CSEA President
Dr. Betty A. Rosa, NYS Education Department Board of Regents Chancellor
Joseph W. Belluck, B.S., J.D, SUNY Board of Trustees
Courtney E. Burke, M.P.A., B.S, SUNY Board of Trustees
Eric Corngold, B.A., J.D, SUNY Board of Trustees
Robert J. Duffy, B.S., M.A., SUNY Board of Trustees
Christy Fogal, B.S., M.S., SUNY Board of Trustees
Gwen Kay, B.A., Ph.D, SUNY Board of Trustees
Eunice A. Lewin, M.A. Ed.M, SUNY Board of Trustees
Stanley S. Litow, B.A, SUNY Board of Trustees
Austin W. Ostro, B.A, SUNY Board of Trustees
Cesar A. Perales, B.A., J.D, SUNY Board of Trustees
Richard Socarides, B.A., J.D, SUNY Board of Trustees
Carl Spielvogel, B.B.A, SUNY Board of Trustees
Edward M. Spiro, B.A., J.D, SUNY Board of Trustees
Cary F. Staller, B.A., J.D, SUNY Board of Trustees
United University Professions Chapter Presidents
Dr. Michael A. Alfultis, Maritime College President
Dr. David C. Amberg, SUNY ESF Interim President
Dr. Denise A. Battles, SUNY Geneseo President
Dr. Michael Alan Bernstein, Stony Brook University Interim President
Dr. Erik J. Bitterbaum, SUNY Cortland President
Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, SUNY Old Westbury President
Dr. Donald P. Christian, SUNY New Paltz President
Dr. Katherine S. Conway-Turner, Buffalo State College President
Dennis Craig, Purchase College Interim President
Dr. Milagros Peña, Purchase College President
Dr. Mantosh Dewan, SUNY Upstate Medical Center Interim President
Dr. Kristin Esterberg, SUNY Potsdam President
Deborah Flemma Stanley, SUNY Oswego President
Dr. David A. Heath, College of Optometry President
Dr. Dennis Hefner, SUNY Fredonia Interim President
Dr. Michael R. Laliberte, SUNY Delhi President
Dr. Alexander Enyedi,, SUNY Plattsburgh President
Dr. Heidi R. Macpherson, The College at Brockport President
Dr. Jim Malatras, Empire State College President
Dr. Barbara Jean Morris, SUNY Oneonta President
Dr. John S. Nader, Farmingdale State College President
Dr. Wayne J. Riley, SUNY Downstate Medical Center President
Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, University at Albany President
Dr. David Rogers, SUNY Morrisville President
Dr. Harvey G. Stenger Jr., Binghamton University President
Dr. Irby Sullivan, Alfred State College President
Dr. Zvi Szafran, SUNY Canton President
Dr. Marion Terenzio, SUNY Cobleskill President
Dr. Satish K. Tripathi, University at Buffalo President
Dr. Grace Wang, SUNY Polytechnic Institute Interim President