Mumps outbreak raises concerns about effect on students, faculty

Geneseo’s mumps outbreak resulted in seven off campus and 16 on campus cases as of Wednesday Feb. 1. Although there is no cure for mumps, it is recommended for those who contract the disease to drink plenty of fluids and rest.

Months after the initial outbreak of mumps on the Geneseo campus, questions remain as to the lasting impact of the virus on students, faculty and staff.

With 11 off campus and 15 on campus confirmed cases of mumps at the close of the fall 2016 semester, many people wondered if unvaccinated students—who were required to leave for a period of 26 days following the last reported case—would be able to return for the spring semester. The Geneseo Health Center allowed these students to return on Jan. 10.

Biology major senior Dylan Dederick was one of these unvaccinated students, and was initially unaware about the seriousness of the outbreak. He believes that the college offered reasonable accommodations to make up for his missed semester.

“The classes in my major just called my grade as it was, and some of the classes I was taking at the time had me Skype into class or just do the reading at home,” Dederick said. 

Administrative Director for Geneseo’s Health and Counseling Center Erin Halligan-Avery claims providing appropriate services for students was a top priority.

“We are very concerned with academics and wanted to make sure we had every possible support in place including getting faculty members involved,” Halligan-Avery said. “I can honestly say that it was a really smooth process for a majority of students, and our faculty members were really excellent in accommodating our students.” 

Vice President for Student and Campus Life Robert Bonfiglio believes the outbreak was handled well, claiming that the help from the county board of health as well as the experiences learned from SUNY New Paltz’s outbreak—which was significantly worse than Geneseo’s—proved invaluable in combating the virus. 

Medical Director of Lauderdale Center for Student Health Dr. Steven Radi said it is far too early to determine whether the disease is eradicated.

“We’re obviously focused on being sure we don’t have any additional cases, and if we do we will spring back into action,” Radi said. 

Radi and Halligan-Avery are concerned that a New York State law giving students 30 days after the start of classes to disclose their immunization records hampers their ability to combat diseases like mumps. They explained that if an outbreak occurred before all of the students’ immunization records were compiled, the health center would not be able to effectively protect Geneseo students.

In order to prevent such a case from happening, Halligan-Avery and Radi called for a more stringent deadline. In addition, the health center has taken measures to remind and to convince incoming students to submit these important medical records before starting classes, such as personal phone calls from admission councilors, face to face meetings with orientation workers and a full-time staffer dedicated to identifying new students without disclosed records.

Conversely, Bonfiglio believes that it is necessary to give new students time in order to become accustomed to Geneseo’s health center requirements.

“There are expectations within a community; some of those expectations have to do with how we talk with each other—treat each other—and some of them deal with abiding by standards to protect each other,” Bonfiglio said. “We want people to think of the immunization requirements as something they owe to each other as a member of the community. If they’re brand new to the community, we want to give them time to learn that this is one of those expectations.”

Editor-in-Chief Emma Bixler contributed reporting to this article.