CUNY campuses reopened on Aug. 25 for the fall semester, but there is much uncertainty for faculty and students alike as the highly infectious Delta variant continues to loom over the city.
Throughout CUNY’s 25-campus university system, which includes Bronx Community College, Hostos College and Lehman College, there has been no uniform or coordinated COVID-19 preparations for a return to the classroom, and several campuses have issues that, according to CUNY’s union, need to be addressed before they feel it is safe to return. The Professional Staff Congress’ (PSC) concerns center on health and safety measures that have yet to be addressed by the administration.
On Aug. 23, members of the PSC, which represents 30,000 faculty and staff, held a rally at the CUNY Central administration building, where they called for additional safety protocols to be included in CUNY’s COVID reopening plan. They want the following measures implemented:
- That CUNY permit remote instruction until the state guidance concerning student vaccinations can be met and in-person students are fully vaccinated.
- That CUNY release clear, consistent policies on distancing for all CUNY facilities that adhere to CDC guidance.
- That professional staff who do not need to be on campus be allowed to work remotely if they request it.
- That the air flow in facilities located in Queens College, Hunter College, Baruch College, Medgar Evers College and Bronx Community College be spot-checked.
- That CUNY require a negative COVID test within 72 hours while the rate of community transmission is high.
- A safety plan for in-person classes should there be an outbreak within a particular class or campus.
“As the Delta variant emerged in New York City and vaccinations stagnated, it became clear that CUNY’s existing policies would be inadequate for reducing the spread of the virus,” said PSC President James Davis. “The administration must take the steps we have raised with them immediately to reduce the risk on campus and safeguard the health of the CUNY community.”
Davis said the primary concerns regarding returning to the classroom are vaccinations and buildings that lack proper ventilation systems. He told the Bronx Times that CUNY originally planned to open campuses Aug. 2 for 50% of the staff, but many facilities lacked up to date HVAC systems. Davis added that regardless of the pandemic, all of the buildings should be inspected each year since many of the structures are 90 years-old.
According to Davis, when vaccine distribution rolled out at the beginning of the year, no one thought things would take a turn for the worse with the rise of the more infectious COVID-19 strain, the Delta variant, which has renewed calls for more masking and social distancing again.
“As the Delta variant comes through the city things don’t look as rosy as they did in June, when plans for the fall semester were getting materialized,” he said. Currently, the Delta variant accounts for 95% of all COVID cases in NYC, according to city health officials.
While most of the CUNY staff is vaccinated, no one has to show proof of vaccination until Sept. 14. By letting people on campus without knowing their vaccination status the school is teetering on a slippery slope, Davis said.
“The thing about CUNY is it’s an amazing university and you can get a great education,” he said. “But there’s been years of underfunding and chronic delayed maintenance. We don’t think that any faculty or staff should be sent back to unsafe facilities.”
Attempts to reach CUNY officials for comment were unsuccessful.
In May, CUNY officials detailed several elements that August reopening plans needed to include such as unvaccinated students and staff being required to wear masks, mandatory quarantine periods for those contracting the virus, and surveillance testing for unvaccinated individuals, who will be required to submit a test every seven days to attend in-person classes.
Reach Jason Cohen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter @bronxtimes and Facebook @bronxtimes.