Students move their suitcases up the stairs outside North Balch Hall.

Planned with safety in mind, Cornell move-in days begin

Each year university administrators and staff members carefully plan and orchestrate the move-in process in order to give the roughly 6,500 students who opt to live on campus the best opportunity to launch the academic year with their best foot forward. This year, that is no different, and yet – amid the COVID-19 pandemic – everything is different, with the No. 1 goal to keep everyone safe and healthy.

Normally a two-day move-in process, this year students are arriving on campus on a rolling basis to allow for those who are coming from states on the New York travel advisory list to quarantine for 14 days.

For safety, parents and family members brought students to designated drop-off points on campus, and were not allowed into campus facilities, including residence halls.

Also different this year, parents and family members are not allowed into campus facilities, including residence halls, and they must bring their students to designated drop-off points. Each student is limited to the equivalent of two suitcases and a backpack and are provided a welcome kit with PPE supplies. Initial orientation activities will occur online.

Cornell residence halls hold around 6,500 beds, but this fall about 5,000 of them will be filled, reflecting the number of students who have opted for a virtual semester from home. To help with safety measures, rooms designed to hold three or four students will now house one or two students.

“We’re trying to ensure that we adhere to all the New York state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for safety, and welcome students to campus,” said Karen Brown, communications director for Student and Campus Life.

The process began Aug. 17 with the arrival of approximately 440 international students, as well as students from states on the New York state travel advisory. These students received an exception to arrive on campus so they could start a mandatory, 14-day quarantine prior to classes starting. They included a mix of first-year and upper-level international students with visa or arrival date issues, and students from restricted states with personal hardships, such as lack of internet access, or those living in conditions that made quarantining prior to arrival difficult.

Many other students from restricted states chose to quarantine on their own in New York state or in a nonrestricted state. “A good number of them said, ‘We’re just going to take our family vacation in Massachusetts, rent a house, and I’ll quarantine there,’” Brown said. Individuals must update a re-entry checklist to indicate where they are arriving from, to verify that they are arriving from a state that is not on the New York State Travel Advisory list, Brown said.

The first cohort of students arrived at scheduled times at North Campus and took their first COVID-19 test in Robert Purcell Community Center. After grabbing a prepared meal to go, they carried their belongings to an assigned single room to quarantine for two weeks, leaving only to use the bathroom, pick up meals at a nearby central location or be retested.

On both Aug. 23 and Aug. 24, around 1,300 students from nonrestricted states are scheduled to arrive. If they are arriving in a personal vehicle, before coming to campus, they will head to a special COVID-19 testing site set up for Cornell students with the help of the Cayuga Medical Center at the Ithaca Mall, where they have an assigned an arrival time with a 30-minute window for getting tested. If they are coming to campus via public transportation, taxi or Uber, then they will head to the Robert Purcell Community Center for their test.

Afterward, students follow the same check-in protocol as the quarantined students, but these students will isolate only until their tests return negative. Some of these students have contracted for single rooms, where they will stay through the year. The others will isolate alone in double rooms, until they (and their roommates) are deemed coronavirus free.

Finally, on Aug. 25, 27 and 29 around 500 more students per day from unrestricted states will arrive on campus. Students arriving in personal vehicles will be tested at the Cornell Livestock Pavilion, while those arriving by other means will head to Robert Purcell Community Center for tests. Once tested, students will be directed to reserved rooms at Ithaca-area hotels to isolate until they receive their test results. These students are the roommates of the students who arrived on Aug. 23-24 and contracted for double rooms.

While students are in quarantine and in isolation, residential advising staff are available to check on them and provide information and resources. Activities are planned to help pass the time:

  • Cornell Recreation Services has created pre-recorded fitness classes for in-room exercise;
  • Cornell Cinema has a menu of films for viewing; and
  • the Campus Activities team at Student and Campus Life has arranged 40 social, fun and informational virtual sessions – called Q-Week – for online participation in trivia events, yoga, information sessions about campus and academic life, and dance and listening parties.

Once students have met their quarantine or testing requirements, they are free to roam campus and the community, as long as they follow guidelines outlined in Cornell’s public health campaign, which includes wearing a face covering and physical distancing guidelines outside their rooms.

Within residence halls, shared kitchens will have signs for maximum occupancies, and elevators will be limited to one rider at a time. Bathrooms and fixtures within bathrooms will be assigned, with extra cleaning protocols by the facilities team and extra supplies for students to sanitize after each use.

In the event that a student receives a positive test result, they will be moved immediately to an isolation-housing hotel, with rooms prepped for ill students where Cornell Health doctors, nurses and staff can carefully monitor and care for them. Students will be moved to the hospital should they require further medical attention.

“We’re trying to provide students the best experience that we can under these circumstances,” Brown said. “We’re going to help them the best we can.”

Media Contact

Rebecca Valli