Higher Education Committee Chairwoman Sen. Stavisky Convenes Hearing on H1N1 Swine Flu Preparedness on College Campuses

November 16, 2009

State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, Chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee, and members of the Higher Education and Health Committees today convened a hearing to examine college campuses’ ability to cope with the H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic throughout the state of New York. Swine flu outbreaks have risen significantly since students returned to college.


The State University of New York, City University of New York, Cornell University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Adelphi University and the State Department of Health all sent representatives to the hearing. Each school’s representative outlined the effect of swine flu on their campuses, measures being taken to quell outbreaks, plans to cope with future outbreaks, and increased susceptibility and risk among student populations.


SUNY, which has a student body of 465,000, set up an internal system to gather and analyze data on each campus which is updated and monitored daily.  In September, Chancellor Nancy Zimpher directed each campus president to report to her on a daily basis the number of students with flu-like illness, Dr. Edward Engelbride, Senior Assistant Provost at SUNY, and Dr. Kathleen Camelo, Director of the SUNY Plattsburgh student health center, said in their testimony.


So far, CUNY has not experienced a major outbreak of H1N1 on its campuses, said Dr. Alan Dobrin,  Executive Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Chief Operating Officer of CUNY.  The university system is working to promote awareness and access to facilities in the community that offer free H1N1 vaccines, sending email blasts, updating campus web sites and putting up posters, he said.


Cornell University, where more than 500 students suffered from swine flu, updated its website to include a dedicated H1N1 page, set up a “flu line” and email address staffed by people with health services experience to handle questions from students, parents and faculty, and mailed letters home to parents during the summer to highlight campus planning, medical concerns and approaches.  The university encouraged self-isolation and worked with the dorms and dining halls to quarantine, feed and support ill students and address roommate concerns, said Sharon Dittman, Associate Director of Community Relations at Cornell.  To help students reach the health center, Cornell set up a dedicated vehicle to transport students, set up five new parking spaces nearby, and offered contingency planning for those traveling to and from different parts of the country or the world to reach campus.


Adelphi University offers the H1N1 vaccine on campus and to date has provided more than 1,000 vaccinations, said Jacqué Cartabuke, Director of Health Services at the Nassau County-based university.  Adelphi coordinated nine campus offices including Public Safety, Health Services, Residential Life and Public Affairs and held meetings to spread the word effectively to students about hygiene, resources and available treatment, Cartabuke said.  The school also changed its ordering procedures for cleaning supplies, installed hand sanitizer dispensers, and created plans so that friends or roommates of sick students could take meals from the dining halls back to the dorms or have the meals delivered.


Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute took advantage of its RPIAlert system, the primary means used by the school’s leadership to disseminate information to the community about dangerous or potentially dangerous situations, and put together a list of frequently asked questions, H1N1 signs and symptoms, and information on the campus’ status.  When students returned to campus in the fall, RPI emailed a weekly memo to the entire community, including parents, and posted the information to its website for the general public to view, said William Walker, Vice President of Strategic Communications and External Relations at RPI. The school also established isolation rooms and  implemented a policy of quarantining ill students until 24 hours after their fevers passed, Walker said.


Copies of the testimony are available upon request.  Video of the hearing is available at: http://www.livestream.com/nysenate2