President Martha E. Pollack and Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi discuss students’ stepping up to the challenges posed by COVID-19.

Cornell Leadership Sessions: Students are stepping up

Cornell Leadership Sessions is an ongoing video series in which members of the administration discuss university efforts related to the campus reactivation and the COVID-19 pandemic. Visit for the latest information and resources.

In the third video of the series, President Martha E. Pollack and Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi discuss students’ stepping up to the challenges; a gradual increase in engagement and activities, including athletics and fitness; and Cornell’s partnership with Cayuga Health System to donate testing capacity to the Ithaca City School District:

Martha E. Pollack: Hello, everybody. Cornell is now a whole month into classes, and our community has really risen to the challenge of limiting the spread of COVID-19 on campus. Through all of our collective efforts, the number of cases on campus has stayed remarkably low. Indeed, over the past two weeks, we’ve had just 10 cases in our campus community, a community that includes about 9,000 faculty and staff and about 17,000 students who are back here with us in Ithaca this fall.

This is really good news. And I want to congratulate, in particular, our students. You have demonstrated the maturity and the community spirit that’s required to keep the virus in check. There are those out there who doubted our students and their commitment to public health, but they clearly didn’t know what Cornellians were capable of. So thank you for all you’re doing to safeguard our community and to ensure that we have a successful residential semester.

And keep it up. I know how hard it is, but you are showing the way. I have never been prouder to be a part of this great community. I do want to note that while the numbers of infections in the broader community – that is, Ithaca – have stayed quite low, in some of the surrounding communities we’re seeing some problems. So please don’t travel. Stay here in Ithaca.

And finally, I want to give a thanks to the amazing team over in the Office of Student and Campus Life who have helped our students adapt to this new normal. Today I have with me Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi, and he’s going to touch on some recent updates.

Ryan Lombardi: Thanks, Martha. And I want to add my gratitude and appreciation for our students. You’ve been doing an amazing job. And I also want to thank all of my colleagues in Student and Campus Life that are working so hard to make this in-person semester a reality.

Now, because of some of this early success we’ve seen on campus, we’re beginning to slowly allow for some additional opportunity for engagement and activities. Earlier this week, we announced that student athletes can begin up to one hour per day of weight training and conditioning, as well as virtual team meetings. Like with all activities, group sizes may not exceed 10 students. We have also added open time on Jessup Fields for intramural and club-sport participants. Some intramural sports are also beginning some outdoor one-on-one and two-on-two activities.

Jessup Field and the sand volleyball courts are also now open. And students, faculty and staff can use the Alumni Fields and the Kane Sports Complex outdoor track for individual fitness routines. And these spaces do not need to be reserved.

Beginning next Monday, if our campus prevalence remains low and things stay consistent, we’re going to be opening up the Noyes and Teagle fitness centers as well as the Lindseth Climbing Center. These will be open to students on a limited basis. Of course, everyone can continue to stay active with our virtual fitness classes, but with winter on the way soon, I encourage all of you to get out and enjoy the outdoor spaces as much as possible.

Also next week, for registered student organizations, small group gatherings of 10 or fewer may begin with advanced planning and restrictions. Now remember, gyms, recreational facilities are just like all other locations on campus. Face coverings and physical distancing requirements must remain in place. Safety guidelines will be posted on-site. Now, these changes are exciting to our life on campus. But they require us to remain diligent and focused and committed to preserving the health of our community as we make these slight modifications.

MEP: Cornell always wants to be a good partner, a good member of the community. And so I’m really pleased that we’re going to be able to lend our surveillance testing expertise to the Ithaca City School District as it prepares to move to in-person teaching. In partnership with the Cayuga Health System, we’re going to be donating $160,000 worth of gateway testing, with the goal of estimating viral prevalence among the student community prior to their going back into the schools for in-person education next week.

Testing began yesterday and will continue through Saturday at the Ithaca Mall. And what’s really nice is that the district’s own school nurses will be on hand to greet students. That’ll provide them, I think, with a friendly, familiar face and help ease anxiety that they might have. Our own testing laboratory, the Cornell COVID-19 Testing Laboratory up in the College of Veterinary Medicine, will then process the samples. I’m really pleased about this partnership.

Our early success this semester mustn’t lull us into a sense of the challenge is over. The weather is about to turn colder. We know that. We live in Ithaca. And we’re all going to be spending more time indoors. And it’s indoors where the novel coronavirus spreads more easily.

And then on top of that, we have flu season coming. It has never been more important to get your flu shot. Do it for yourself, because the flu can be devastating, even for young people, and it could make you more susceptible to COVID-19. And beyond that, it’s become clear that if you have COVID-19 and the flu at the same time, you can have a much more difficult clinical course. And we don’t want anyone in our community to have to deal with that.

I want to encourage all of you to go check the Cornell Health website. We have flu vaccine clinics available on campus over the next coming weeks, so don’t put off making your appointment. We’re thrilled, as I said so far, with the success of our surveillance testing program. We’re thrilled with the low infection rates we’re seeing. But we know those are due to the fact that people are behaving in the ways that they need to behave to ensure public health. So keep going for your surveillance tests. I know they may seem like an inconvenience, but they’re critical to our public health strategy.

Keep wearing your masks. As I walk around campus, it’s really heartening to see people complying with the requirement of mask use. And we see it not only on campus but in Collegetown. As Ryan said, you’ve got to wear your masks indoors as well as out. So even as the weather changes, even as we’re having to spend more time indoors, keep your masks on. Go for your surveillance testing. Wash your hands. Avoid crowds. Physically distance. All these measures are critical to keeping our community healthy and to enabling us to continue to have a successful in-person semester.

Thank you for all you’ve done. Keep doing it. And everyone, stay well.

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