COVID-19 cases and vaccinations at Union College


Union Students waiting outside the Viniar Athletic Center for weekly COVID-19 testing. Trey Everett | Concordiensis

Dante Sasso, Editor-In-Chief

Since the beginning of spring break at Union College, the students and faculty have seen a massive spike in COVID-19 cases on campus. Though the spikes have calmed down after two weeks into spring term, the question still remains as to how and why these cases increased so much during the short time period of finals week and spring break.

The administration at Union College’s theory for the spread of COVID-19 was that it came from interpersonal relationships among students and their friends. This appears to match up with the experience of students who did undergo quarantine during the term, such as Zoë Flessas-Finocche ’23. Flessas-Finocche stated that she believes that she contracted COVID-19 from campus. “I got it from one of my friends… I am unsure as to how she got it.” Flessas-Finocche spent her quarantine and isolation at home during finals week. Another student who contracted COVID-19 during the finals week/spring break period was Aidan Briney ’23. Briney states that he believes he contracted COVID-19 from “on campus from hanging out with friends.” 

According to Philip J. Wajda, Union’s Director of Media and Public Relations, Union College hasn’t been collecting data on specific trends in the spread of COVID-19 between students. Specifically, data on class years of those students who were infected and where they reside was unavailable to the Concordiensis.

Upon return to campus for spring term, students at Union College have had to return to testing twice every week for COVID-19 in the Viniar Athletic Center. Indoor dining has also been removed until further notice, and students are advised once more to minimize indoor contact without masks with other students. It is unknown as to how long this will be the state of campus for.

In addition to an initial large spike of COVID-19 cases on Union’s campus, there has been discussion of the availability of vaccinations for COVID-19 for students at Union. On March 29th, 2021, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the vaccines for COVID-19 would be available to New York residents over the age of 16 on April 6th, 2021.

Union College’s COVID-19 updates account encouraged students to book appointments through the Schenectady County COVID Vaccine website, though it is important to note that the website has no available appointment times for the Pfizer brand vaccine until after May 6th, 2021. The Moderna brand vaccine has more open slots, however it requires the individual to be 18+ years of age.

When asked about the availability of vaccinations on Union College’s campus, Wajda stated “The College has been vigorously pursuing the vaccine for all members of our campus community. We continue to be in conversation with Schenectady County Public Health Services, New York State Department of Health and CICU to secure doses to be administered on campus. We have sent multiple reminders to the campus community providing detailed instruction regarding eligibility and availability. We encourage all members of our community to be vaccinated if they are able as they become eligible.”

Wajda’s statement was gathered on April 7th, 2021. On April 8th, 2021, though, the Union College COVID-19 updates account sent out two separate emails to staff and students. Students were told that Union has acquired 600 doses of vaccinations from Johnson & Johnson, and that these vaccinations were for students only. It is unclear as to why the College’s status went from trying to secure vaccinations to having already secured them after one day.

What is distinct about the email sent to staff is that it contains an extra line which mentions the following: “we anticipate receiving 100 doses of the Moderna vaccine on Monday that we can make available to faculty and staff. Once we confirm receipt of these doses we will release information about how to secure an appointment. Most likely these appointments will be April 15-16.” There is no mention of the Moderna vaccine acquisition in the student email. The student email was sent out by Dean Fran’Cee Brown-McClure, whereas the staff email was sent out by Beth R. Glassman, the Interim Chief Human Resources Officer, and Dean Strom Thacker.

Flessas-Finocche is one of several students who has already received a vaccination from either the Moderna or the Pfizer brands, which are distinct from Johnson & Johnson as they require two doses whereas Johnson & Johnson only has one. It has been reported that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is less effective, however it is important to note that it is only less effective at preventing people from contracting the virus, and that it is just as effective at preventing death and hospitalization.

Aside from vaccination cards, students can also use the emocha app that Union has been using to have students verify their health conditions before entering buildings and classes. The app has recently been updated so that students can upload a record of their vaccination, which should help make it easier for Union College to keep track of how many individuals have gotten immunized against the virus.

Students were offered initially the ability to get vaccinated on April 9th, 2021, however the slots have been filled as of this article’s publication. According to Union’s COVID-19 updates account, “550 appointments will be available April 12-14.” Students will be able to register for those appointments starting on April 9th at some point in the afternoon, when an email is sent out by the COVID-19 updates account. It is unclear whether the college will be gaining more vaccines for students after these initial 600 doses.