COVID-19 testing site at Fischell Band Center.

Cornell launches COVID-19 testing dashboard, alert system

A coordinated COVID-19 testing program is a vital component of Cornell’s efforts to prevent the spread of the virus as Cornell reactivates its Ithaca campus. The university is now making testing results available on a new dashboard.

The COVID-19 Tracking Dashboard, unveiled Aug. 25, will be updated daily with information on the number of tests performed and the number of positive cases identified in the campus community. University leadership outlined Cornell’s public health strategy, including an aggressive testing plan, during a virtual faculty and staff town hall Aug. 20.

The tracking dashboard includes Cornell’s COVID-19 Alert Level, a color-coded threat level system tied to five key metrics. The lowest threat level is “green”; if any metric reaches a particular threshold, university leaders said, the level could be raised to “yellow,” “orange” or “red,” the last of which would prompt consideration of whether to deactivate the campus.

The five metrics that will be used to determine Cornell’s COVID-19 Alert Level include:

  • numbers of infections over the past seven days (after completion of arrival testing) and cumulatively;
  • availability of quarantine and isolation space;
  • local health system capacity;
  • community spread of COVID in the greater Ithaca area; and
  • the inventory of supplies needed to conduct surveillance testing.

Students, faculty and staff who are studying, researching or working on the Ithaca campus will undergo regular surveillance testing, starting Sept. 2 and continuing throughout the upcoming semester. The Cornell Coronavirus Testing Laboratory, based in the College of Veterinary Medicine, began its operations Aug. 17 and will be the main testing arm of the surveillance program.

Peter Frazier, associate professor in the School of Operations Research and Information Engineering, led the team that developed an epidemiological model that Cornell leaders have used for making decisions about reactivating campus. Frazier has been involved in developing the dashboard, along with staff members from across the university.

Frazier said Cornell, which began COVID-19 testing on campus in May, will conduct surveillance testing – “we’ll be testing everyone and doing it really frequently,” he said – in order to identify people who are infected but asymptomatic. These individuals are important to identify and isolate, Frazier said, because they can unwittingly infect many more people.

These surveillance-identified cases are likely to inflate Cornell’s infection rates somewhat, Frazier said, as compared with Tompkins County, where testing is only conducted on individuals who are showing symptoms or have had contact with an infected person.

Dr. Gary Koretzky, vice provost for academic integration, points out that testing has so far revealed a prevalence of around 0.1% among all Cornellians tested, and around 0.2% among undergraduates.

“It’s better than what we had hoped for, but it still requires vigilance,” said Koretzky. “It requires vigilance on testing, but really importantly it’s also about the behavioral modifications – masks and distancing. Testing is only there for when people become infected. The goal is to prevent those infections.”

Information on testing in all of Tompkins County will continue to be available on the Tompkins County Health Department’s website.

Merry R. Buckley is a writer and researcher in the Office of University Relations.

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