Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered several students in the state university system studying abroad in high-risk countries for the COVID-19 virus to return home this past weekend, and offered quarantine sites — including one on the South Fork.
Twenty-two students arrived on Saturday evening and are currently housed at the Stony Brook Southampton campus, in formerly vacant residence halls. Four more students arrived on Monday, bringing the total to 26. The students were screened for the virus on arrival, and none reported any symptoms.
The students, who are all required to be quarantined for two weeks, were allowed to choose to stay either at their homes or at one of three locations in New York State, including the vacant dorms in Shinnecock Hills.
On Sunday, a Stony Brook University official posted a statement online outlining the details of the placement of SUNY and CUNY students for quarantine.
Dr. Richard J. Gatteau, vice president for student affairs and dean of students at Stony Brook, said in the open letter to the “Stony Brook Southampton Campus Community” that SUNY, working with the State Department of Health, “urged” students in Italy, Japan and South Korea to return home immediately and begin a 14-day precautionary quarantine, either at home or at one of several sites.
The Shinnecock Hills campus, he said, offers “the facilities, services, technology, clinical and general staffing capabilities to accommodate [State Department of Health] precautionary quarantine guidelines.”
“We are accommodating no more than three students per suite (each has an individual room) in residential buildings that are currently unoccupied in which there is no access permitted to enter the building, allowing for this precautionary isolation protocol,” Mr. Gatteau said in the statement. “Each room contains a dedicated refrigerator and microwave. Food service will be delivered to each room following SUNY/[State Department of Health] guidance on food delivery procedures.”
There is no interaction with any other part of the campus, he added. A team of clinicians will “provide medical surveillance,” he said, including tests for COVID-19 as appropriate.
Since the letter was issued, four additional students were transported to the Stony Brook Southampton campus for quarantine, according to Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. The students, according to a source knowledgeable of the situation, were studying in South Korea.
During a Town Board meeting on Tuesday, Mr. Schneiderman said the four additional students arrived on Monday, noting that none of those students were symptomatic either.
For the 22 students who arrived on Saturday, he said, the 14-day clock is several days in, and the four additional students are isolated away from the original 22, he said.
On Tuesday, Mr. Cuomo held a press conference to give an update on COVID-19. He said at the time there were 173 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state, with no deaths, as opposed to Washington State, which has 179 confirmed cases of the disease and 22 deaths.
Mr. Schneiderman said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that he was not happy that SUNY was using facilities in Southampton to quarantine individuals with or without the virus, but added he had confidence in the people who were handling the situation.
The governor’s office did not respond to several calls and emails seeking additional information about the quarantine situation in Southampton, other than to say they were “extremely busy.”
Mr. Cuomo said in a Twitter statement on Wednesday, March 4, that “out of an abundance of caution,” he was ordering a 14-day mandatory quarantine once 300 students studying abroad in high-risk countries returned to the United States.
Shortly after the announcement, The Press obtained a memo regarding the commencement of preparations to prepare the Stony Brook Southampton Campus residence halls as quarantine units to house the students who returned to the U.S. on SUNY-sponsored flights from Japan, Italy and South Korea.
Students would be given the choice to either quarantine themselves at home or to spend the time at one of three designated SUNY campuses. Stony Brook Southampton, the memo read, was one of the locations being considered because it has the capabilities to accommodate State Department of Health quarantine guidelines.
The Southampton campus, the memo continued, is able to accommodate up to 36 students, and over the course of 14 days, they will get continued academic support.
“Should someone actually be diagnosed while in isolation and require transportation to a local healthcare facility such as Southampton Hospital or another health care provider, our EMS transport services are equipped to provide that transport,” the memo read. “If external medical care is not needed, students will remain self-isolated and receive comfort care, which is the standard level of care for this cohort of patients.”
State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. had harsh words for SUNY on Saturday after it struggled to communicate or return several calls to The Press regarding the situation.
Mr. Thiele said SUNY’s inability to keep the public informed during a crisis broke the first rule of crisis management.
“Our first priority is the safety, health and welfare of all students, faculty and staff who are currently residing on the Southampton campus, as well as for members of the broader community who live and work in the local area,” Mr. Gatteau said. “We are working around the clock to ensure that contact with students who will undergo precautionary quarantine on campus will be limited to telehealth providers, and clinicians who are experienced and trained to care for people who may have been exposed to the 2019 novel coronavirus disease.”