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Surveillance testing set to begin Sept. 2

Provost Michael Kotlikoff, Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Mary Opperman, Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi and Vice Provost for Academic Integration Gary Koretzky sent the following message Aug. 20.

It has been one month since the university announced the launch of our comprehensive COVID-19 testing program, beginning with “arrival testing” for students as they return to Ithaca. Since that July 15 message, we have results from 3,307 undergraduates and 4,518 graduate students, which identified five positive undergraduate tests and one positive graduate student test in our arrival program. Although a few additional student cases have been reported outside of our arrival testing, the results to date indicate a very low prevalence amongst students and is well below the assumptions in our modeling. Next week, the university plans to launch a public “dashboard” on the COVID website containing daily testing results and other data, providing a daily snapshot of the status of a number of critical public health parameters.

The Aug. 4 COVID testing program update outlined the three components of our testing program: Testing for Cause, Arrival Testing, and Surveillance Testing, while announcing the new Cornell COVID-19 Testing Laboratory (CCTL) housed in the College of Veterinary Medicine. Testing for cause is available for students through Cornell Health and for employees at the Cayuga Health System Ithaca Mall site, with results generally available the next day. Today, we are writing to provide you with an update on surveillance testing plans, which will begin campuswide on Sept. 2 for students and select faculty/staff; implementation of the remainder of staff/faculty testing will begin on Sept. 8.  

Surveillance Testing Program

Ongoing surveillance testing is a cornerstone of our public health campaign and is particularly important to identify individuals in our community who may be harboring coronavirus, yet show no symptoms. Participation in surveillance testing is required for members of the Cornell community who work or study on the Ithaca campus and at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva. Students living off campus in the greater Ithaca area, even if participating in classes remotely, are required to participate in the testing program unless exempted through a waiver process. Cornell Tech and Weill Cornell Medicine have mounted separate testing programs. We outline the plans for surveillance testing below, understanding that we may need to make adjustments as we monitor COVID-19 infection on our campus and in our local communities.

Test Scheduling, Locations, and Methodology

Beginning in September, students, faculty, and staff will be notified of their surveillance test through the Daily Check and, based on the frequency for which they will be tested, assigned to a specific day(s) of the week. A reminder notification will be displayed in the Daily Check the day prior to when the test is to be completed, requesting that each person schedule their test for the location and time that aligns with their work/class schedule. Seven testing sites have been established on the Ithaca campus in the following locations with a 5- or 7-day/week schedule. A limited amount of reserved parking will be available at select sites for individuals needing to drive to/from their testing appointment.

  • Robert Purcell Community Center: 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday; 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday.
  • Willard Straight Hall: 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday; 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday; limited parking available in the WSH metered lot.
  • Collegetown Terrace: 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday; 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday.
  • Fischell Band Center: 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday; 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday; ample parking available in the Crescent Lot.
  • Livestock Pavilion: 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday; 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday; limited parking available along Judd Falls Road and in the South Morrison Lot.
  • ILR Conference Center, King Shaw Hall: 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday; limited parking available on Garden Avenue.
  • College of Veterinary Medicine: 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday; 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; available to those approved for CVM facility access.

For faculty, staff and students at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva: on-site, weekly testing will be made available. If more convenient, Cornell AgriTech personnel can choose to schedule their surveillance test at a site on the Ithaca campus.

All testing sites will operate under the same protocol for supervised self-collection of anterior nares (front of the nostril) samples. Anterior nares sampling is simple and much less invasive than the nasopharyngeal swab used for “arrival testing,” allowing each individual to swab their own nostril under the observation of a trained staff member. Surveillance samples will be sent to the CCTL and results obtained by the next day. If the surveillance test indicates a potential positive, the person will be contacted by Cayuga Health System to schedule an individual diagnostic test, with instructions to self-quarantine until those test results are known. Should the diagnostic test be positive, Tompkins County Health Department will be notified to begin case management and contact tracing. You may continue normal activities (with strict adherence to mask wearing and social distancing) unless you are contacted by Cayuga Health System to self-quarantine and schedule a confirmatory test. There is no cost for any component of surveillance testing.

Testing Frequency

Undergraduate Students (in the Ithaca area)

  • Tested twice per week, on a 7-day per week schedule, regardless of the course modality for which they are enrolled. (Mon/Thurs, Tues/Fri, Wed/Sat, Thurs/Sun, Fri/Mon, Sat/Tues, Sun/Wed)
  • As with “arrival testing,” compliance with surveillance testing is required by the Cornell Behavioral Compact.
  • A limited exemption waiver process will be available in early September for undergraduates with no on-campus activity and for whom weekly testing would be a demonstrated hardship.

Professional Degree Students (in the Ithaca/Geneva area)

  • Tested weekly, Monday – Friday, regardless of the course modality for which they are enrolled.
  • As with “arrival testing,” compliance with surveillance testing is required by the Cornell Behavioral Compact.
  • A limited exemption waiver process will be available in early September for professional degree students with no on-campus activity and for whom weekly testing would be a demonstrated hardship.
  • DVM students will be provided additional information specific to their program.

Graduate Research Degree Students (in the Ithaca/Geneva area)

  • Tested weekly, Monday – Friday.
  • A petition process will be available in early September for limited exceptions to reduce the required testing frequency for research degree students with limited or no on-campus activity and for whom weekly testing would be a demonstrated hardship.
  • As with “arrival testing,” compliance with surveillance testing is required by the Cornell Behavioral Compact.

Faculty and Staff (in the Ithaca/Geneva area)

  • Tested weekly: for those regularly on campus (on average two days or more per week).*
  • Tested every other week: for those infrequently on campus (on average less than two days per week).
  • No required testing: for those working 100% remotely and not in the Daily Check in order to work on campus. 
  • Compliance with surveillance testing is required by the employee expectations that are acknowledged in the Daily Check.

*Those faculty and staff who are regularly (two days or more per week on average) on campus and have regular contact with students and/or regularly work in close proximity to others in circumstances where it is not possible to regularly maintain physical distancing may be tested more frequently.

Important Information

Any member of the community who develops symptoms of COVID-19, or who becomes aware that they have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19, should never seek COVID-19 testing from a surveillance site. Instead, students should contact Cornell Health at 607-255-5155; employees should seek testing at the Cayuga Health System Ithaca Mall testing site.

A series of FAQs and updated information will be added to Cornell’s COVID-19 with more details about the surveillance testing program over the coming week. Direct questions to covidtesting@cornell.edu.

Thank you for your partnership to maintain a safe and healthy campus.

Media Contact

Abby Butler