COVID-19 Update: New York State Guidance | Mandatory Testing | Vaccine Eligibility

Dear Students, Families, Faculty and Staff:

The landscape of federal, state and local policy guidance related to the COVID health emergency continues to evolve at a rapid pace. We are following these policy changes and amended public health guidelines very closely, to ensure that our ongoing response to the COVID health emergency is informed by the most current science and public policy.

Today’s message addresses some of the recent health policy changes and prevention protocols announced by New York State and federal authorities and is intended to provide clarity as to how those changes are impacting our efforts to ensure the health and safety of our campus and Central New York communities. In this message I will address:

  • New York State Guidance to Colleges and Universities
  • Mandatory Student Testing
  • Vaccine Eligibility and Requirements
  • Current Travel Guidance
  • Spring Break Travel

Please continue to visit for the latest news and information, and to review the most up-to-date COVID-19 dashboard.

Clarity on New York State Guidance: New guidance from New York State related to the conditions that would require a “pause” to in-person learning and student activities has generated a lot of news, chatter and word-of-mouth on college and university campuses. I want to provide clarity on how the new guidance impacts us.

On Friday, Feb. 19, New York State updated its guidance for when colleges and universities must go “on-pause” because of COVID infections on campus. Previously, if our campus experienced 100 positive COVID test results over a fixed two-week period, New York State would require that we pause in-person learning and student activities for 14 days. Under the revised guidance, the threshold for the number of positive test results that would result in a mandatory pause is now set at 5 percent of the total on-campus population (over a 14-day period). At Syracuse University, this equates to a threshold of 880 positive test results over a rolling 14-day period. Under New York State guidelines, this new standard applies only to colleges and universities conducting surveillance testing of a minimum of 25 percent of the on-campus population weekly. Currently, the University is testing approximately 75 percent of our on-campus population weekly and will do so for the entire semester.

Though we are grateful for relief from the prior and somewhat arbitrary standard of 100 positive tests, it is important that all members of our community understand that what this change in policy really does is afford the University enhanced discretion to enact public health policies and measures that best align with our unique circumstance. In other words, it is important not to interpret the 880-positive test metric as the single standard by which the University may decide—even absent a mandate from the state—to pause in-person learning given an outbreak of COVID infection on our campus. Instead, moving forward, that threshold will be informed by our own public health experts and the unique situation on campus. Be assured that the Syracuse University Public Health Team will continue to proactively monitor the public health situation on campus and if necessary, those experts may act in advance of a mandate from New York State to introduce restrictions or limitations deemed necessary to protect the safety and well-being of our community.

Testing Is Mandatory for any Student Accessing Campus: Any student who is accessing campus—for whatever reason and regardless of how infrequently—must comply with the weekly testing regimen. This includes those students whose classes are solely online this semester but visit campus to use the dining facilities, fitness centers or other campus resources. Individuals, whether remote students or students who live off campus, are prohibited from accessing campus buildings and facilities without participating in the COVID surveillance testing program. Failure to be tested as required will result in consequences, as previously communicated. To learn more about our testing surveillance program, please review this message from the Public Health Team that was shared on Friday, Feb. 19.

Vaccine Eligibility and Requirements: We continue to receive questions about the state’s vaccination distribution process. There is nothing we want more than for every individual who wants to be vaccinated to get vaccinated. However, as a reminder, New York State—not Syracuse University—makes all determinations related to vaccine eligibility. Eligibility determinations are assigned based on a variety of factors, including the risk associated with workplace exposure and as a function of the availability of vaccine supplied to New York State by the federal government.

Recently, New York State announced that those with certain underlying medical conditions are now eligible. The full list of qualifying comorbidities and underlying conditions is available on the New York State website. For those who may qualify, you can confirm your eligibility, review frequently asked questions and register for the vaccination (when appointments are available) on the New York State eligibility tool website.

At the moment, only New York State, county health departments, pharmacies and hospitals are distributing the vaccine. Syracuse University has applied to the state to be an employer point of distribution in the event that vaccine supplies improve and eligibility for the vaccine is expanded. The New York State vaccination plan is evolving as vaccines become more available. The Syracuse University Public Health Team will continue to share new information as we receive it, including updates and changes impacting the vaccine eligibility and the availability of vaccination resources in our community.

Current Travel Guidance: Travel for University purposes remains limited to essential purposes only. Personal travel is also strongly discouraged to limit the risk of importing contagion into the Central New York community. In all cases, New York State guidance for traveler quarantine must be observed. Requests to travel for essential research purposes may be made to the vice president for research on the Return to Campus Research webpage. Students are prohibited from traveling outside of Central New York except as noted in the provisions of the Stay Safe Pledge. Travel for other essential reasons may be considered by relevant vice presidents or deans. Potential travelers are encouraged to contact the Office of Global Safety and Support at or 315.443.1968 to discuss options. In all cases, those traveling for University purposes or students traveling for essential personal reasons should register their travel on the Syracuse University Travel Registry website.

Spring Break Travel: With the above guidance in mind and given the suspension of spring break this year, I want to remind our students to avoid making travel plans out of state. We are aware that some travel companies are already marketing travel packages to students. Per the Stay Safe Pledge, you are advised to remain here in Central New York; those who violate this provision may compromise the health and wellness of our students, faculty, staff and neighbors—and you may also face disciplinary sanctions for violating the Stay Safe Pledge.

I want to once again express my gratitude to those of you who are working hard to ensure that we all experience a safe and meaningful academic semester. We cannot let our guard down—not for even a single moment. It is everyone’s job to keep our campus community and neighbors safe, healthy and well.


J. Michael Haynie
Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives and Innovation