More than 800 Stony Brook University students are backing a Change.org petition to close campus after coronavirus cases were confirmed in New York.
The petition, created Wednesday, was posted to the SBU subreddit and is directed to Stony Brook officials, State University of New York officials and Interim President Michael Bernstein. It was created by financial management graduate student Tianyou Huang and acquired its first goal of 500 signatures in 15 hours.
The petition calls the virus a “pandemic” — the World Health Organization still considers the outbreak an epidemic — and argues that the population density of the Stony Brook University campus could increase the risk of student exposure to the coronavirus, or COVID-19.
As of Sunday, March 8, there are 105 reported cases of COVID-19 in New York. There are currently 12 cases in New York City, and the first case on Long Island was confirmed on March 5. There are five cases in Nassau County, and one case in Suffolk County.
Currently the way to prevent contracting the virus is to avoid exposure, according to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“As students of Stony Brook University, we should put our personal health and our close family’s well-being in the first place,” the petition reads. “Actions should be taken before crisis not after. Self-isolation has been proven to be the best way of preventing the spreading of the virus. It is up to us to protect ourselves.”
The most recent New York City planning report shows that in 2017, 1.4 million people who work in the New York Metro Area live on Long Island. In an email to The Statesman, Huang wrote that the petition highlights a preemptive measure to prevent the virus from spreading through commuters from the city to Long Island.
“I hope at least the SBU official has enough ‘caution’ to let the students know how serious the Coronavirus is,” he wrote. “The closure does not mean everything is done, we still can do online classes or online midterms at home.”
In an email to The Statesman, Stony Brook University officials wrote that closing the campus has not been recommended by any of the guidance they’ve received from health professionals.
“Stony Brook is continuing to follow guidance from the CDC, U.S. Department of State, New York State Department of Health and Suffolk County Department of Health Services related to the 2019 novel Coronavirus,” the email read. “SUNY administration in Albany has also convened a SUNY COVIDs-19 Task Force charged with relaying the latest guidance and information from the NYSDOH to its 64 campuses. Among the guidance offered, closing the campus has not been included.”
In a coronavirus update on March 6 that discusses the integration of the 61 soon to be quarantined Stony Brook students evacuating from study abroad programs in Japan, Italy and South Korea, the administration advised professors to accommodate quarantined students.
Minghua Zhang, Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, suggested in the message that faculty should prepare to potentially teach online courses.
“Since COVID-19 is a rapidly changing situation, circumstances may require you to make alternative teaching arrangements for your courses,” Zhang wrote. “I encourage you to start exploring whether and how your classes may be temporarily offered online.”
Ruibing Liu, a senior psychology major who signed the petition, wrote in an email that her Chinese friends on campus were in a panic after the virus hit in China. She is worried that the university’s population might be at risk of an outbreak, especially with New York City only hours away.
“Due to the long incubation period of this virus, many people are infected without noticing and can still live normally within 14 days,” Liu said. “If one of our students unfortunately gets infected during that time, the consequences will become horrible and uncontrollable on Stony Brook campus.”
ChengYao Jiang, a sophomore business management major who also signed the petition, wrote in an email that because of the incubation period, he believes the number of people exposed to COVID-19 is more than those accounted for. He also said that the university should shift to online classes.
“The daily population flow in the school is very large, so I think this situation needs to suspend school immediately and change all courses to online courses; that’s the safest way,” Jiang said. “Don’t underestimate the infectivity and power of COVID-19.”