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At UAlbany, education a key part of battling COVID-19

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ALBANY — University at Albany saw 18 new COVID-19 cases last week,  inching closure to the 100-case threshold that according to state guidelines would trigger a campus-wide “pause” and force classes to shift online.

Off-campus parties have been blamed for the spread of the disease, but strict sanctions against students who knowingly break safety protocols and widespread testing are only part of the solution, experts say.

Education and changing students’ attitudes about the disease is a key component to managing any public health crisis, according to Dolores Cimini, director at UAlbany’s Center for Behavioral Health Promotion and Applied Research.

“In the 1980s, when we did AIDS prevention, what we did was education and we gave people condoms and dental dams. During COVID-19, we doing education and we are giving people masks, sanitizer, and other things to protect themselves,” Cimini said. “We distributed them not only to our long-term students but also to our neighbors.”

Since May, Cimini and her team have been analyzing student behaviors and beliefs, particularly focusing on the relationship between substance use and COVID-19 transmission.

A survey of students conducted over the summer found that 96 percent of respondents wear a mask around others. The study also found that students who drank alcohol or used drugs were less likely to follow disease prevention rules like handwashing, mask-wearing and social distancing.

“In order for prevention to work, we have to work at the same time at several levels … we need to do early intervention for students who are at risk and teach them skills they need to remain healthy,” Cimini said. “If students are exposed, we need to get them referrals and the healthcare that they need.”

To address risky behavior, Cimini is leading a COVID-19-specific social norms campaign that highlights the percentage of UAlbany students who