CUNY responds to coronavirus with website and email hotline

Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Amanda Salazar, Editor-in-Chief

In response to the growing number of COVID-19, or Novel Coronavirus, cases in the United States, including within New York State, CUNY is setting up preparations in case the situation gets worse.

A new Coronavirus webpage has been set up on the main CUNY website with messages from Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez explaining to students the plans for handling the situation. Each time an official update is sent out from CUNY Central, the page is updated with it document as well.

On the side panel of the site is a hyperlink to every update that the university system has sent out to students, faculty or staff, plus one podcast made by CUNY School of Public Health Dean Ayman El-Mohandes about our understanding of the virus — or lack thereof.

Below the category of “University Updates” is a list of hyperlinked resources for students and families to use to learn more about the virus. 

It includes information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is the organization that CUNY is currently basing all its Coronavirus related decisions on.

Much of the information emailed to students or uploaded on the new Coronavirus site pertain to students who are currently studying abroad, as CUNY has students in nations across the world, including several nations that are being heavily impacted by the virus right now.

The CDC has a three-level system for measuring how affected countries are by the virus, with level three being the highest. CUNY has students studying in nations of all levels, but the concern is mostly directed at those in level three countries.

South Korea, Iran, China and Italy are some of these countries.

As a response to the situation, CUNY initially told students studying abroad that they could remain in the country in which they are currently, but as of press time, the university seems to be encouraging all students to return to America.

The original plan was that students who wished to return back to New York were allowed to leave their study abroad trips without penalty while those who wanted to stay abroad could, according to a Baruch College student currently studying abroad in South Korea.

However, CUNY has since released that it is suspending all study abroad programs for the current semester. Applications for Summer 2020 and Fall 2020 study and internship abroad programs are open, though, and are accepting students. 

It is possible that these will be shut down as well, if the situation worsens or persists.

“Additionally, CUNY study abroad programs in the four Level 3 countries mentioned above and Japan (CDC Level 2) have been suspended effective immediately,” the CUNY Coronavirus says in its latest update. “The decision was made based on recommendations from the NYSDOH. CUNY and the State University of New York (SUNY) are making arrangements to bring back students, faculty and staff currently studying or working in those countries and begin a 14-day quarantine.”

In addition to CUNY updating students and staff, Baruch itself has been sending updates to members of its campus, all written by President Mitchel Wallerstein.

Wallerstein has sent out two emails so far, both with the link to the CUNY Coronavirus website in the second paragraph. The emails have been encouraging students to read up on the illness and on the university’s response to it.

“CUNY is fully monitoring the course of COVID-19, and will be communicating regularly with updates on the spread of the disease and on any CUNY responses that might be warranted,” Wallerstein wrote in the first of his emails. “Here at Baruch, we are exploring various options and procedures, including alternative class-delivery methods, which could be put in place if the situation warranted. But these decisions are not under active consideration at the present time, and they likely would be taken only on a CUNY-wide basis.”

Baruch Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs James McCarthy, who has a background in public health, has also weighed in on the situation, with the president linking a message from McCarthy in his latest email as of press time.

However, when the link is clicked on, it brings the viewer to a “404 Page Not Found” message. The reason for this is unclear.

Additionally, CUNY has even set up an email hotline so that students, staff and their families can reach out to members of the university who are well-versed in the situation and are able to answer questions about CUNY’s response to the virus. It also created a task force to monitor this email account.

Despite CUNY and Baruch’s attempts to get a handle on the situation and calm students’ fears, members of the school community are on edge, and the school has been criticized for its approach to it so far.

Right when news about COVID-19 broke in February, an unidentified student began selling medical face masks for $1 each in the neighborhood near Baruch. He does not seem to still be doing so.

As time went on since the virus first broke out, an increasing number of students have been walking around Baruch with these types of face masks on, despite the fact that the CDC says it is not necessary to do so.

Past the students’ response, a Baruch psychology professor, David O’Brien, wrote a letter to the editor for this issue of The Ticker, which has been published in the Opinions section, in which he criticized the college’s failure to add more hand sanitizing stations around the campus.

According to O’Brien, during past viral outbreaks, Baruch has increased the amount of hand sanitizer dispensers in its Newman Vertical Campus building.

During this outbreak, however, the college has not yet done so as of press time. Many of the current sanitizer dispensers that are in the building are empty.

Students also shared O’Brien’s concern over not having enough hand sanitizer in the building, and in the 23rd Street building as well. In that building, also known as 17 Lex, the toilets, soap dispensers and sink faucets are all non-automatic, so students have to touch them to get them to work, unlike the NVC building.

Probably the biggest push back to the college’s response to COVID-19 has come in the form of a petition created by a student, which has been circulating the “Official Baruch Class of” Facebook group pages for the past week or so.

“Close ALL campuses of Baruch College due to the outbreak of COVID-19,” made by Zijie Li, has 2,618 signatures as of press time, with a goal of 5,000 supporters.

“As members of The Bearcat community, we have every right to be alerted, to be informed and to take every precaution the school is capable of offering to protect ourselves,” the text of the petition reads in part.

“According to WHO, COVID-19 can transmit from person to person through droplets (coughing, sneezing, talking, etc.) and surfaces touched by confirmed patients or asymptomatic carriers, which basically meant that none of us would know if we have been exposed to the virus or not since people without symptoms can also pass on the virus,” it says. “Thus, we encourage you to think rationally and do some calculations for yourself about how many people you randomly encounter on a daily basis, and whether you are certain that you won’t ever become a victim of this global crisis.”

While the college and university have not commented on or responded to the petition, they have become more persistent with updates.

Within the past week, however, a rumor has been tossed around online about both Baruch and Hunter College having students with COVID-19, which CUNY and Baruch have also not commented on.

The rumor was spread through Facebook posts in the form of a screenshot of a screenshot of a text message conversation.

“CUNY has been informed of 2 confirmed cases of COVID-19,” the message reads.

“A female individual attending Hunter College was identified as a coronavirus patient early this morning. In addition, a male student from Baruch College has also been identified as confirmed case of the coronavirus. Please use caution when touching areas around you as well as remembering to wash your…”

The message is cut off, so the screenshot doesn’t show it fully.

The number that sent the message is shown in the image.

The Ticker has reached out to the phone number through text, but so far, there has not been a response.

If students have questions or concerns about CUNY’s response to the COVID-19 or would like to learn more about the virus, they can browse or contact