By: Sruli Fruchter  | 

27 COVID-19 Cases Reported on Campus as Quarantine Spaces Reach Maximum Capacity

Less than two weeks since the spring semester began on Jan. 17, New York State’s COVID-19 Tracker reported 27 positive COVID-19 cases at YU’s undergraduate campuses with 54 students quarantined and 20 isolated as of Jan. 29. YU’s campus quarantine capacity has 32 available rooms, all of which are in use. These numbers follow the general rise in cases, hospitalizations and deaths across New York City since October.

On Jan. 26, Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Chaim Nissel emailed the student body that “Since returning to campus this Spring semester, we have identified multiple positive COVID-19 cases on the Wilf and Beren campuses,” adding that YU’s COVID-19 Monitoring Program identified “most of these cases.” YU subsequently informed students and staff who needed to quarantine or isolate, the email said. If the lesser of 100 or 5% of a university’s total on-campus population — including students, faculty and staff — tests positive for COVID-19 during a 14-day period, all in-person learning must move online and campus activity must be limited for 14 days, according to NYS guidelines. As of publication, YU did not respond to The Commentator’s request for a current figure of its on-campus population.

“As we have recently told students and parents, over the past few weeks, the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise, both in the tri-state area and across the nation,” Nissel told The Commentator. “In addition to sending out reminders to ensure that students are participating in the COVID Monitoring program, we have put into place additional systems to identify those who have not participated as well as consequences for those not abiding by the rules.”

Nissel’s Jan. 26 email also included information about the addition of a once-a-week Abbot Binax test — which will allow for “quicker results” and better contact tracing — to the existing COVID-19 testing protocol for “all undergraduate students who live or come to campus, including RIETS (Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary) students.” Its implementation began on Thursday, Jan. 28.

YU’s protocol requires those students to submit one negative Nasal PCR test before returning to campus after a break, fill out a daily health-screening questionnaire before entering YU buildings and test for COVID-19 twice a week on Monday and Thursday. The Abbot test will be complemented with a PCR test every week. 

“While we understand that roommates may be in close proximity to each other, everyone should try to remain 6 feet apart, at all times to prevent potential spread and reduce the likelihood of needing to quarantine,” Nissel said.

From the testing, only students who were in “close contact” —   within six feet for 15 minutes during the 48-hour period prior to testing or symptoms — of someone who tested positive will be notified to quarantine, according to Nissel’s email.

Spring 2021 campus life has changed in several ways compared to Fall 2020. Near the end of the fall semester, indoor dining was banned at YU cafeterias in line with NYS Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s order prohibiting indoor dining at restaurants across NYC. 

Spring 2021 has 32% of undergraduate classes functioning with an in-person component — either being entirely or partially on campus — while 68% remain online, which marks an increase of in-person classes since Fall 2020. Beren and Wilf libraries, as well as each campus’s batei midrash, hold consistent COVID-19 policies for both semesters.

Some students felt confident about YU’s protective measures. “I think YU has been doing a pretty good job at testing students on campus and continuing to search for better testing options,” said Elizabeth Kershteyn (SCW ‘22), a student living on campus for Spring 2021. “Of course, there will always be issues and problems but overall I think campus is a relatively safe place to be. Ultimately, the safety of the student body rests in the hands of students themselves.” 

Other students were concerned about the spike in cases. “I think YU needs to make sure that everyone on campus takes their COVID-19 tests,” said Alexander Wildes (SSSB ‘21), who is living in an off-campus apartment. “The fact that so many people have positive cases is frightening, but the number of students quarantining because of this is even scarier. The earlier we can catch the cases, the better.”

According to the NYS Department of Health COVID-19 Tracker, 13,398 people tested positive for COVID-19 in New York on Jan. 27. In the past week, since Jan. 21, an average of 12,735 people out of 230,838 daily tests have tested positive every day. Since Jan. 24, 1,304,050 people have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, while 564,600 have received a second dose. 

“With new, more infectious strains of COVID-19 emerging, now more than ever, continued vigilance and caution is imperative,” Nissel said. “While we await vaccinations and herd immunity, it is important to continue following our health and safety protocols despite the COVID-19 fatigue that we may feel almost one year out.  We need everyone's help to keep our campuses safe.”

Jared Scharf contributed to this story.

Photo Caption: Students on campus sign up to get tested twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays.
Photo Credit: The Commentator