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CUNY Cannot Combat the Pandemic by Patchwork

Aug 16, 2021

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Dear PSC Member,

We are writing again in response to the message we all received from the Chancellor yesterday. The approach CUNY is taking to reopening is inconsistent and, given the Delta variant, inadequate. We are asking you to contact the Chancellor, the Chief Operating Officer, and your college President THIS WEEKEND. Please tell them to take the actions that we argued for at our meeting with CUNY on August 9:

  • CUNY should recalibrate the pre-semester reopening plan, as Lehman College and Queens College have just done. Until September 14, only those staff who are genuinely critical to regular operations should be asked to report to in-person work. Others should be permitted to continue working remotely.
  • CUNY should permit the conversion of in-person classes to remote through September 14, the deadline for in-person students to upload their proof of vaccination.
  • CUNY should make its mask mandate universal. Colleges should implement a mask mandate that complies fully with CDC guidance, if the University does not.

Members should know that CUNY leadership made assurances to the PSC about health and safety measures that are not reflected on many campuses:

  1. CUNY assured us that their policies would adhere, at minimum, to CDC guidance. But CUNY is not adhering to CDC guidance for indoor mask-wearing among fully vaccinated in areas with substantial or high COVID transmission. In every borough, the rate of community transmission is “substantial” or “high,” the point at which the CDC recommends universal indoor masking. The Chancellor’s announcement yesterday is a step in the right direction, but makes no reference to the Delta variant and creates an exception: “if a fully vaccinated person is in a classroom, dorm room, office, or other enclosed space, or is at a workspace/desk and is socially distanced from any other occupied workspace/desk.” There is a reason this exception does not appear in the CDC guidance; the Delta variant is far more transmissible than other variants, has a shorter incubation period, and can be spread even by vaccinated individuals. Because we are not in a fully vaccinated environment, a universal mandate will remove uncertainty and misunderstandings, and ensure our mutual safety. Several CUNY colleges have eliminated the exception and imposed a CDC-compliant mask mandate; until CUNY Central takes the leadership it should take, all campuses should follow suit.
  2. CUNY assured us that in mixed-vaccination settings, six feet of physical distancing will be observed, as recommended in CDC guidance for Institutions of Higher Education where not everyone is fully vaccinated. During periods of high community spread, minimizing density in all spaces on our campuses is key. But some colleges, such as Hunter and the Graduate Center, are making their own determinations and declining to implement any physical distancing measures.
  3. CUNY assured us that buildings would only be reoccupied if walkthroughs had been conducted and any necessary remediation completed. Walkthroughs are still being conducted in the weeks ahead, and CUNY Central’s own five locations have yet to conduct a single walkthrough with the union. Medgar Evers, Baruch, and others have not yet completed necessary remediation.

CUNY Central must move past its patchwork approach and follow the lead of campuses that are taking the prudent path to slow reopening and higher safety standards. CUNY should recalibrate the pre-semester reopening plan and implement a mask mandate that fully complies with CDC guidelines. Please email the Chancellor, the Chief Operating Officer, and your college President THIS WEEKEND.

We urge all PSC members to get vaccinated, stay physically distant, and wear masks in all indoor public spaces – to keep ourselves, and our full CUNY and neighborhood communities, safe.

In solidarity,

James Davis, President
Andrea Vásquez, First Vice President
Felicia Wharton, Treasurer
Penny Lewis, Secretary

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