Coronavirus News: 'Exit testing' underway for SUNY students to go home for Thanksgiving

System-wide plan will allow campuses to safely return to in-person instruction for the spring
NEW YORK (WABC) -- New York's public university system is requiring students to test negative for the coronavirus before they can leave for Thanksgiving break in hopes of preventing community spread as students fan across the country.

The SUNY system's 64 colleges and universities must test about 140,000 students within 10 days before Thanksgiving break, and every student has to test negative in order to go home to their families.

At SUNY Purchase, mandated exit testing is being conducted through Wednesday this week. After the break, SUNY will shift to remote learning for the rest of the fall semester.

The process takes less than five minutes, with students checking in and running a swab against their cheeks and gums. It's testing that's become second nature over the course of the semester.

At Purchase, only 750 of the college's 4,200 students are on campus -- a conservative approach that's resulted in only five positive cases.

The exit testing policy applies to all students who are taking at least one class on campus, working on campus, or using on-campus services including the gymnasium, library or dining hall.

Related: All SUNY students must get COVID tests before Thanksgiving break

SUNY requires colleges to isolate or quarantine any residential student who tests positive for COVID-19 or is exposed to COVID-19 in the last 14 days before Thanksgiving break.

The testing is also recommended for faculty and staff.

In-person classes are scheduled to resume February 1, with no spring break. Students will need to quarantine at home for a week before school starts and get tested for coronavirus at home or on campus.

In addition, mask-wearing will be mandatory at all times even with social distancing.

"We've demonstrated this past fall that by implementing an aggressive strategy to manage COVID, students can safely return to campus," SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras said.

Related: SUNY's spring semester plan includes mandatory testing for all students

Students who present documentation of a positive COVID test within the last three months are exempt from the return test.

Several SUNY schools had to pause in-person learning this fall after on-campus outbreaks, and officials estimate nearly 3,150 positive cases among students and staff this fall.

Most SUNY universities didn't require students to get tested before returning to campus in August, but Malatras has required every campus to conduct regular surveillance testing and said accessing testing was a challenge for the system's campuses.

According to the university, SUNY schools have the capacity to process approximately 200,000 COVID-19 tests per week, thanks in large part to the FDA-approved saliva test developed by SUNY Upstate Medical University.

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