Cornell response to COVID-19 Delta variant spike

Provost Michael Kotlikoff, Chief Human Resources Officer Mary Opperman and Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi sent the following message Aug. 12:

We appreciate your continued vigilance in responding to the COVID-19 delta variant spike. In true One Cornell fashion, we know that our faculty, staff, and students are committed to ensuring a safe, successful start to the academic year amid these concerns.

We understand this is a confusing time with many messages and rapidly changing public health guidance. Below, in text and in graphic form, we summarize Cornell’s decisions to date regarding the three core tenets of our strategy: Vaccination, Testing, and Masking.


Vaccination remains the single most important tool to end the pandemic and is remarkably effective at preventing severe disease. As of today, more than 94% of our faculty, staff and students are fully vaccinated. Cornell accepts FDA- and WHO-authorized vaccines, which currently include Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca-Oxford, Johnson & Johnson (Janssen), Moderna, Sinopharm, and Sinovac.

  • All students – undergraduate, graduate, professional – are required to be vaccinated and to submit proof of vaccination (or request medical or religious exemption) by Aug. 16. Any students who cannot be vaccinated before move-in should do so immediately upon their arrival in Ithaca. Cornell Health will host on-campus vaccination clinics Aug. 19, 20, 21 and 25.
  • Faculty and staff are strongly encouraged to be vaccinated. We are proud of our exceptionally high rates of faculty and staff vaccination, and we urge any unvaccinated employees to take this important step to protect themselves and our community.
  • Registering status: All members of the Cornell community must submit proof of their vaccination status via the Daily Check.

Arrival and Surveillance Testing

Identifying and isolating asymptomatic infections remains an essential part of our strategy to curb the spread of COVID-19 on our campuses. The rapid spread of the delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 necessitates continuing to rigorously test our community. Modeling by Peter Frazier, the Eleanor and Howard Morgan Professor of Operations Research and Information Engineering, and his team supports the need to test many vaccinated individuals – undergraduate and professional students, as well as some vaccinated staff – to identify “breakthrough” infections and stop viral spread. If we find evidence of COVID among those vaccinated, we will do careful contact tracing and direct additional contacts to testing. As always, we will monitor the data carefully and relax these testing needs as soon as we are able.

Student Arrival Testing

  • All unvaccinated or partially vaccinated students must participate in arrival testing prior to accessing residence hall or other campus facilities.

Student Surveillance Testing

  • All unvaccinated or partially vaccinated students are required to participate in regular surveillance testing twice weekly until fully vaccinated, or continually if a student has an approved medical or religious exemption.
  • In addition, some vaccinated student populations – undergraduates and professional students in Law, CVM, Johnson, AAP and ILR – will initially be required to participate in weekly surveillance testing at the start of the semester.
  • Graduate students not mandated for surveillance testing may opt in to weekly testing. More information about this program and when it will commence will be forthcoming.

Employee Surveillance Testing

  • All faculty and staff must either be fully vaccinated with an FDA- or WHO-authorized vaccine and submit proof of vaccination to the Daily Checkor participate in twice weekly surveillance testing and comply with mask-wearing requirements for the unvaccinated. (Currently, unvaccinated employees reporting to campus are tested once weekly. We anticipate that the twice-weekly requirement will go into effect the week of Aug. 23; however, employees should visit their Daily Check homepage for updates.)
  • In addition, some fully vaccinated faculty and staff will be required to participate in weekly testing this fall, based on the nature of their work interactions. Cornell is currently determining which positions require this mandatory weekly testing for vaccinated employees. Employees not mandated for surveillance testing may opt in to weekly testing.  More information about this program and when it will commence will be forthcoming.

We plan to discontinue surveillance testing for vaccinated individuals – students, faculty and staff – as soon as we are confident of low virus prevalence on campus.

Supplemental Testing

Supplemental testing for asymptomatic individuals remains available to all students, faculty, and staff to access testing on an as-needed basis. Supplemental tests can be scheduled through the Daily Check.

We remind everyone that supplementary and surveillance testing is not appropriate for those with symptoms. Students should contact Cornell Health and employees should contact their health care provider if ill.


Cornell recently reinstated an indoor mask mandate, as a result of an increase in local transmission and the July 30 Tompkins County Health Department guidance. We implore the community – including vaccinated individuals – to remain committed to indoor masking. Peter Frazier’s modeling indicates a strong benefit of masking on reducing viral transmission. Vaccination and indoor mask wearing remains our best chance to maintain in-person instruction and activities.

  • All students, faculty, staff and visitors – regardless of vaccination status – are required to mask in indoor settings.
  • Unvaccinated individuals must also wear a mask outdoors when 6’ physical distancing is not possible.

Please be mindful that these requirements may change as new information and public health guidance emerges. A graphic summary of all current expectations can be found here:

Thank you for your sustained commitment to keeping Cornell safe and healthy.

Media Contact

Abby Butler