Last week, we received in the union office a series of important questions regarding the health and safety of our members working on campus. We presented them to Dr. Williams and he agreed to have the administration respond in writing so we could share those responses with all of you. Those answers, unedited, appear below:
Question: I understand that we recently hired a campus physician. Please explain their role and responsibilities as they relate to on-campus COVID-19 health and safety protocols, including the notification process in the event that someone tests positive for the virus?
Answer: Working with the College leadership, and in coordination with the Nassau County Department of Health (NCDOH) and SUNY, the campus physician manages and monitors all health and safety protocols for the College involving COVID-19. Additionally, the campus physician oversees the College’s Surveillance Testing Program, conducts contact tracing for employees and oversees the Student Health Office operations. If there is a positive COVID-19 case associated with the College’s on-campus population, the campus physician, upon notification, works directly with the NCDOH with contact tracing, quarantine protocols and policies. The physician also works with the NCDOH and the College’s Physical Plant Department to ensure that proper sanitization and cleaning procedures are implemented following any COVID-19 positive case on campus, and ensures that the College follows the NCDOH’s recommendations on potential building closures, if such are needed.
As with any positive case associated with the campus, individuals who have come in contact with COVID-19 positive individuals are contacted by a contact tracer and provided with instructions for quarantining and symptom-monitoring. Contact tracing for employees is conducted in collaboration by the College’s Human Resources Department and the campus physician. NCDOH conducts contact tracing for off-campus “close contacts.”
Upon the launch of the SUNY tracker, the NCC community has been encouraged to check the SUNY Tracker for COVID-19 related issues involving the College community. Everyone is encouraged to continue this practice and view the SUNY Tracker for the most up to date COVID-19 case information pertaining to the College. The College provides data to SUNY for inclusion in the SUNY Tracker on a daily basis.
Question: When someone has tested positive, what general protocols does the College follow in communicating that information to the campus?
Response: The College works directly with the NCDOH upon notification that any member of the on-campus community tested positive for COVID-19. First, the campus does a 48-hour “look back” from the last day the positive individual was on campus to determine their on-campus “close contacts.” A “close contact” is someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period, starting from 2 days before illness onset (or for asymptomatic individuals, 2 days prior to the date they tested positive for the virus). Individuals who have come in contact with a COVID-19 positive individual are then contacted by a contact tracer, as identified above, and provided with instructions for quarantining and symptom-monitoring. Additionally, the College follows NCDOH guidance to determine whether building closures are required. The College has also provided the campus community with safety guidelines and protocols in the Returning to Work and Campus Guides that mandate a daily symptom and travel history screening, mask wearing and social distancing while on-campus. The College has extensive safety procedures and cleaning protocols in place for the entire campus, including for all shared public spaces, such as bathrooms. These thorough cleanings are performed in a manner, and with a level of timeliness, that meets best practices indicated by the NCDOH. Efforts such as these help to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 from touching common area surfaces.
Due to privacy laws, information regarding any positive individual’s identity cannot be released.
Question: More specifically, someone in my building tested positive for COVID. While some colleagues were asked to quarantine, others, who share a common space—the lobby, for example, the hallway, the restroom—were not even informed about the positive result. Why was that information not shared with everyone in the building? How are we to feel safe working in the building when this information is not being shared?
Response: Pursuant to the Clery Act and SUNY guidelines, notifications of COVID-19 exposure must be sent to affected members of the College community. A determination of which individuals on campus should receive notification of a potential exposure depends on particular circumstance of each case, and is made on a case-by-case basis by the campus physician, working closely with the NCDOH. Multiple factors are taken into consideration in order to make these important decisions and determine which individuals must be notified and whether building closure is required, including the infected individual’s close contacts, the places in the building/campus where the infected individual worked or visited, the cleaning and sanitation already conducted, or which needs to be conducted, by the College’s Physical Plant staff, etc.
Question: When there is a positive Covid test in a building, why isn’t that area/building shut down for a 24-hour period to do a deep cleaning, as is the practice in other places?
Response: If there is a positive COVID-19 case associated with the NCC’s on-campus population, then the College, upon notification, works directly with the NCDOH with contact tracing, quarantine protocols and policies, sanitization and cleaning procedures. Additionally, building/area closures are made on a case-by-case basis in coordination with the NCDOH. The College has extensive safety procedures and cleaning protocols in place for the entire campus, which include public spaces such as bathrooms. These thorough cleanings are performed in a manner, and with a level of timeliness, that meets best practices indicated by the NCDOH.
Question: It appears that the SUNY COVID Tracker is not reporting accurate information regarding NCC. What kind of information does the College report and how often is it reported? What can we do to make sure that the information is both accurate and up to date?
Response: The College reports stats daily to SUNY and information is up-to-date as of 4 p.m. each day. This information is reflective of the College’s on-campus population and includes information derived from the College’s Surveillance Testing as well as information provided to the College regarding off-campus testing undergone by members of the on-campus community.
Note: The SUNY Tracker was launched in September and tracks COVID-19 statistics only after the website’s launch date. As such, the SUNY Tracker does not include information prior to September of 2020. As it pertains to any COVID-19 related deaths among members of the College community, such information would only be reflected in the SUNY Tracker if the cause of death was relayed to the College by the deceseased’s family, which is not always the case.
If there is specific information on the SUNY Tracker that the College community feels is inaccurate, please email COVIDHR@ncc.edu.
Question: The SUNY tracker reports 23 students in quarantine and 19 students in isolation off campus. How is this possible? What is the difference?
Response: Please view this video from the CDC that provides an explanation concerning the difference between the terms “isolation” and “quarantine.”
Question: I have submitted some basic questions to both Human Resource and the Health Office about COVID protocols with no response. If they are not the appropriate offices to receive such emails, where should I direct my inquiries and what is the policy regarding a timely response?
Response: Please send all COVID-related questions regarding employees to COVIDHR@ncc.edu. Please send all COVID-related questions regarding students to HealthOffice@ncc.edu.
Question: A College-wide email regarding pool testing protocols included the following sentence: “The testing program is MANDATORY for all students enrolled in face-to-face classes to remain eligible for in-person class attendance and is a condition of utilizing any on-campus services.” How is this directive being enforced, especially in areas like the Library and the Student Services Center, where members of the campus and public walk into the building, show an ID, fill out a COVID self evaluation form, and enter the building? How do we know that people have actually complied with the testing protocol? How are we supposed to feel safe in this environment?
Response: Maintaining the health and safety of the NCC community is of the utmost importance and as such the College decided, prior to the Fall semester, to close the Library to members of the public. An NCC ID is required to enter the Library, all individuals must complete the COVID screening prior to coming to campus, and follow the mandated safety protocols which include social distancing and mask wearing. Entry to the Library is manned by Public Safety and individuals will not be permitted to enter if these guidelines are not followed.
As is stated on the College website, access to the Student Services Center (SSC) is currently limited to students only, with no visitors allowed. Public Safety & SSC personnel monitor to ensure that this policy is followed. Visitors are required to complete the College’s COVID screening prior to entering. Additionally, if employees are following safety measures in the SSC (social distancing, hand washing, mask wearing), they can feel confident that SCC is a safe environment.
Questions: Why are parents, whose COVID status the College has no way to check, allowed to enter the Student Service Center? Shouldn’t access be limited to students, whom we can require to test?
Response: As stated above, access to the Student Services Center is currently limited to students only, with no visitors or parents allowed. Public Safety & SSC personnel monitor to ensure that this policy is followed. If you believe visitors and/or parents are being permitted in the SSC, then please share this information with Public Safety.
Questions; I filed a COVID Concern Report using the designated reporting form and received a form letter in response. What is the administration’s policy regarding substantive and timely responses to these reports?
Response: Questions are answered within a 24- to 48-hour time frame.
Question: I understand that SUNY has mandated that for the Spring 2021 semester face-to-face instruction must not begin until February 1, 2021. Why are some faculty required to work with students in a face-to-face environment while others are not?
Response: The Spring semester will begin on January 19, 2021 with only online and remote instruction. Face-to-face components of courses will not begin until February 1, 2021, with the exception of a limited number of courses where there are accreditation or certification implications and potentially a few continuing education courses that require face-to-face instruction.
Question: If I have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID and I’m waiting for my own COVID results, while I am waiting for test results:
A. Can I work from home without taking a day off?
Response: This decision would be made by a supervisor. If the supervisor determines that an employee is able to work remotely (based on job duties and job function), and the employee is able to do so health wise while waiting for the results of a COVID-19 test, they should do so. If, however, the supervisor determines that the employee’s duties cannot be performed remotely, the New York COVID-19 Paid Leave allows for up to 14 days of fully paid leave without the use of accrued leave.
B. If I am with someone who tests positive and am therefore required to quarantine, I obviously will not be able to come to campus on the days I have been assigned to do so. In that case, do I need to use my sick time or can I work remotely instead?
Response: If an employee is subject to quarantine, it is the decision of the supervisor to determine if the employee will be able to work remotely (based on job duties and function). As in the response above, if the supervisor determines that the employee is able to work remotely, they should do so. If however, the supervisor determines that the employee’s duties cannot be performed remotely, the New York COVID-19 Paid Leave allows for up to 14 days of fully paid leave without the use of accrued leave.
C. Suppose someone in an office tests positive and cannot come in to work. If the remaining people in that office decline to come in to cover for the person because it was not their assigned day, would they be required to use leave time for those days, or can they work remotely?
Response: Normal work hours, assigned days and times on campus, and whether work can be performed remote or on-site is up to the discretion of the supervisor not the employee.
Question: Why do faculty working in some service areas have to come to campus, even though they can do their jobs remotely, while faculty working in other service areas are able to work remotely without being required to come to campus at all?
Response: Prior to the start of the Fall 2020 semester, the Vice Presidents of each area on campus made a determination, taking into consideration a variety of factors, concerning which College operations require on-campus presence and which will continue to be performed remotely. These decisions were made after carefully considering and balancing the population density on campus, and the College’s mission and goals of best serving our students while ensuring the health and safety of the campus community.
“Asked & Answered” is a regular blog feature in which we answer members’ questions. If you have a question that you would like us to answer in a future Asked & Answered post, please send it to the NCCFT Office. We welcome and encourage frank and open discussion in the “Comments” section. (Please read our comments policy to learn more.) However, if your comment is or contains a question to which you would like a direct response from the Executive Committee, please send that question to the NCCFT Office for potential inclusion in a future Asked & Answered post. (We cannot guarantee that all questions will become such posts, but we will respond to all questions that the office receives.)