Updates on health & safety and reopening

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8/12/2021

Dear PSC member,

We write with updates on the union’s effort to ensure that CUNY complies with the appropriate health and safety standards in reopening.

The principal officers and PSC Health & Safety committee chairperson met this week with CUNY management about the August 16 return of professional staff and August 25 start of classes. We all know that the Delta variant of COVID is highly transmissible, and vaccinated people have contracted and can spread the virus. Unfortunately, community rates of transmission are categorized by the Centers for Disease Control as “substantial” or “high” across New York City, while vaccination rates are uneven and remain low in many communities. These conditions create tremendous challenges for a safe return to campus, and we expect University officials to do what it takes to furnish a safe learning and working environment.

At our meeting, the union continued to push for a universal mask mandate, mandatory vaccinations for all students attending class in-person, and a negative COVID test within 72 hours (rather than the present policy of 7 days) for non-vaccinated individuals seeking entrance to any campus. CUNY confirmed that, given the mixed vaccination status of people on campus, all teaching and work spaces will accommodate six feet of physical distancing until our members are positively assured that the people with whom they share space are vaccinated. If sufficient space is not available, the work or teaching should go remote. Given current conditions, the union recommended that CUNY open the Fall semester remotely through September 14, the deadline for students to upload their vaccination status to enroll for in-person and hybrid classes for the fall semester.

On its own, no single precautionary measure will make campuses safe, but in combination, vaccination, mask-wearing, testing, distancing, and the cleaning and ventilation of spaces will substantially reduce the risk of COVID infection.

Mask-wearing

The PSC has pressed the CUNY administration to implement a stringent mask policy, given the virulence of the Delta variant. After issuing guidance on July 1 that only non-vaccinated members of the campus community would be required to wear masks on the “honor system,” CUNY must move now to implement a consistent, mandatory policy of mask-wearing in public indoor spaces, irrespective of one’s vaccination status. Should conditions permit a relaxation of such a mask mandate, our members would of course welcome the opportunity to unmask safely once again.

Vaccination and Distancing

The vast majority of CUNY faculty and staff are fully vaccinated - the most important factor in keeping the virus off campuses. However, until September 14, CUNY employees should anticipate a mixed vaccinated and unvaccinated student population on campus because CUNY has given in-person students more time to vax up. Unvaccinated members of the campus community will be required to show proof of a negative COVID test from within the previous 7 days. We are advocating that CUNY narrow that window to 72 hours, given the infectiousness of the Delta variant. September 14 is CUNY’s deadline for students taking in-person classes to provide proof of vaccination. Until September 14, both classroom and non-classroom spaces should be considered mixed occupancy – some individuals fully vaccinated, others gaining access with a negative COVID test. After September 14, non-classroom spaces will continue to be mixed occupancy. The PSC maintains that CUNY must comply with CDC guidance and ensure that physical distancing be accommodated at all times in non-classroom spaces, and also in classroom spaces prior to September 14.

Ventilation

The PSC Health & Safety Committee has reviewed each college’s approved reopening plan and the report on ventilation systems from the industrial engineering company that the University contracted. The PSC will continue to press for additional ventilation information for high traffic areas on campus where people are likely to congregate for extended periods of time. Libraries, student services sites, and other comparable areas should be brought to the attention of the campus COVID point-person and Facilities director so that proper data is provided about air change rates. Your chapter’s PSC organizer and representative from the Health & Safety Committee can assist in this matter if the information was not already furnished after the pre-occupancy walkthrough of campus facilities.

Surveillance Testing

On August 9, the Chancellor announced that CUNY has hired Allied DNA to run on-site testing of any unvaccinated person seeking to enter any CUNY facility for any reason, including faculty and staff. In addition, the testing program includes periodic screening of a random sample of vaccinated members of each campus community. We believe this is a positive development to protect the health of our members and our community. Alone, it is not sufficient, but in conjunction with the other mitigation measures, it will help substantially to reduce risk.

Benchmarks for suspension of in-person instruction and work

CUNY leadership must communicate guidance to faculty, staff, and students on the threshold for suspending in-person instruction and work. The CDC guidance for institutions of higher education where not everyone is fully vaccinated indicates the salient factors, including rate of community transmission. College reopening plans were approved with criteria for suspending in-person instruction and work. The University must clarify the system-wide criteria for making these determinations. CUNY must do its part to protect the most vulnerable members of the communities we serve.

Next Steps

CUNY is obliged by law to provide you with a safe workplace. Please join us in demanding that CUNY provide such conditions by attending the PSC faculty and staff rally at LaGuardia Community College on Monday, August 16 to demand increased COVID-19 safety protocols ahead of college reopening, beginning at 8:30 am at 31-10 Thomson Ave in Long Island City. Queens. Please RSVP to srasiotis@pscmail.org. An Action Network letter from PSC members to the Chancellor and the President of your college will be circulated soon.

If and when you return to campus, please note the measures that the union believes are essential for safety in these conditions: masking, distancing, ventilation, cleanliness, signage, and vaccine and testing-related conditions for entry. If you return to work, check that ventilation is working or that there is airflow in your workspace. You should observe the spacing of people at six feet and whether there is any crowding, that your space is clean and being cleaned, and that signs are posted to notify people of COVID safety rules. And you should observe whether members of the campus community are wearing masks. If you believe that the space you are working in is not safe, the union recommends these steps:

  1. Document what you see in writing and, where possible, with pictures.
  2. Report the problem to your supervisor, and request to be moved to a safer space, or request to work remotely until the college mitigates.
  3. Identify the COVID contact person for your campus; every campus has an administrator in this role. Report the problem to them. If it is a problem with facilities, also report the problem to the facilities office.
  4. Report the problem to the PSC organizer for your campus and hswatchdogs@pscmail.org.

Working together, we will ensure that CUNY provides the necessary conditions for a safe return.

In Unity,

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