Manhattan Sees Steep Increase in Positive Coronavirus Cases

by, Gabriella DePinho, Senior Writer

As of Thursday, March 4, Manhattan College has recorded 74 positive cases of coronavirus on-campus in the past 14 days and the campus’ positive test average during that same timeframe is 3.1%, the highest it’s been all semester. This announcement comes just two days after the One Manhattan office made the decision to suspend indoor dining, along with other COVID-19 related policy changes.

While Manhattan College has seen more cases in just the first six weeks of the spring semester than the campus saw all of the fall semester, the college still has some wiggle room before hitting the state threshold that would force a campus-wide shutdown. However, while that wiggle room exists, there is not much of it left.

State-wide there is a directive to all higher education institutions that after hitting 100 cases or 5% of the in-person population, the institution would have to move to a temporary phase of remote learning and restrict conditions in on-campus living more drastically. The question for many is this: what’s Manhattan College’s threshold?

According to Tamara Britt, the college’s general counsel and vice president for external and legal affairs, that threshold for the college is a window of approximately 130 positive on-campus cases.

“Manhattan College falls into the latter category [the 5% of population category], as we are testing at least 25% of our in-person population (approximately 650 students and employees) each week,” Britt wrote in an email to The Quadrangle. “This means our transition would be mandated by the State if 5% (approximately 130 individuals) of our in-person population tested positive using the 14-day rolling average.”

This is because as of Feb. 19, 2021, the state directive was updated so that for institutions testing at least 25% of the population, the threshold would be whichever is greater between 100 cases or 5% of the population, not whichever is lesser.

Britt also clarified in an interview that the rolling 14-day period that caseloads are counted by start from the date tests are conducted, not the date test results are received. Provost Steven Schreiner also clarified that those rolling 14-day periods “move every day.”

In an email from the One Manhattan office on Tuesday, March 2, with the subject line of “Deep Breath Moment,” administrators warned students that “we have seen in recent weeks a significant increase in cases, which is causing concern about the number of students who have had to quarantine.” At the time the email was sent out, there were just 46 cases for the rolling 14-day period that ended on March 2.

According to the Manhattan College COVID-19 Dashboard, for the 14-day window that ended on March 13, the college has consistently had over 100 people quarantined for a variety of reasons: close contact, recent travel or isolation due to symptoms or a positive test result.

As a result of the strain on the campus quarantine capacity and the significant increase in positive cases, students are no longer allowed guests in the residence halls, bridge access to Lee Hall and Horan Hall is suspended, indoor dining — which had been at 35% capacity — has been suspended, Jasper Hall will be de-densified and testing requirements will remain unchanged.

“This is preemptive, what we’re doing, so that we’re not hitting against state and city [caseload] limits, where we’re forced to do things that are even more draconian, are more unpleasant for the students and all of us,” Schreiner said to The Quadrangle. “So that’s the rationale. It’s preemptive.”

As for right now, the restriction on the guest policy is without an end date in sight.

“We don’t like to restrict guests, especially when they’re other Manhattan College students,” Richard Satterlee, the college’s vice president of student affairs, said in an interview. “We want to maintain a residence hall environment, even during COVID that provides an opportunity for safe and effective community building. I think that’s one of the reasons students like to be on campus, so we’re looking at this as a limited restriction, see how it goes, and hopefully it has an impact on positive cases and we’ll be able to return to the limited guest policy we had prior to this uptick.”

The moves that will de-densify Jasper Hall are planned to be changes that will last for the rest of the semester.

“I’ll give you an approximate number of 125 students at max in Jasper and we will be placing them in different vacancies,” Charles Clency, the director of residence life, said. “Our particular focus is Horan because we have more vacancies there than anywhere else but in order to meet that goal, we’re going to spread them out wherever we can.”

When positive cases pop up in Jasper Hall, the entire floor has to move into quarantine, which you can read more about in “Jaspers Quarantined in Westchester Hotel as Horan Suites Reach Maximum Occupancy.” According to Britt, that’s because of how the “family unit” is defined.

“It’s really that bathroom unit,” she said. “If there are communal bathrooms, that’s why we have to go into that deep quarantine, it affects the floor, so one of the things we’re trying to do is solve for that issue.”

The “Deep Breath Moment” email also warned that any in-person student with an unaddressed orange pass — which means they are not in compliance with the biweekly testing directive — would be referred to the Dean of Students office for sanctioning if the pass has not been addressed by Friday, March 12.

Students were also reminded to fill out their symptom tracker properly and that “A new cough, cold-like symptoms, or mild fever should not be ignored and can be an indication of COVID-19.”

Administrators also wrote in the March 2 email that “Our data tells us that the source of the spread is not the classroom, but rather a small minority of our students who are not following our health and safety guidelines.”

Among the email’s reiteration that masks are mandator y and must be worn properly, the administrators wrote “Social events, both on and off-campus are causing the virus to spread” and that “We are aware that students are actively planning Manhatty’s Day. This movement – and any other attempts to organize events that flaunt CDC and Manhattan College directives – are irresponsible and will be dealt with as infractions according to the Student Code of Conduct.”

Manhatty’s Day is a non- school-sanctioned event where students usually host crowds and parties at off-campus locations to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day before spring break. Usually, St. Patrick’s day occurs during spring break, so students have historically squeezed the tradition in before mid-March.

“This is a challenge for us, but it’s important to note that in our code of conduct, we’ve always had the ability to deal with off-campus conduct through the good neighbor policy,” Saterlee said in regards to off campus parties, which include Manhatty’s Day. “When we have documentable concerns with respect to the good neighbor policy we’ve adjudicated those consistently over the years through the Dean of Students Office. That coupled with the fact that we put interim measures in at the beginning of the year for the time of COVID, that really clearly articulate the kind of potential conduct that you’re talking about, at certain off campus events, as being unhealthy for the community during this time of COVID, would suggest to us that students should be concerned about their behavior and what what that could possibly mean in terms of bringing that that or spreading the virus and bringing it back to the community.”

While administrators have the authority to step in and adjudicate when necessary, administrators encourage students to hold each other accountable in regards to wearing masks appropriately and gathering safely.

“The most ideal situation is trying to hold your friendship circle accountable,” Clency said. “We know you’re most effective with the circle of friends that you hang with.”

Even with growing concern about social behavior being a growing point of concern, the administrators do recognize that a large number of students are following the protocols properly.

“We know that there is really a majority of students, maybe a vast majority of students, who really are following the rules and doing due diligence and really making the community safe and we appreciate that, we all appreciate that,” Schreiner said. “And I hope that, not just the actions that we have to take right now that we’re doing these changes rules, but hopefully that’s a bit of a wake up to those who are not thinking they need to follow the rules — the fact that they are affecting campus and it’s not like we’re making it up. The numbers are real. And that should be a wake up call to them.”

Schreiner reiterated that the administration knows the spread is not coming from in-person learning.

“It’s not coming from classrooms,” he said. “We know that and so we’re following the data and the data should wake up the community.”