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Cornell announces two weeks of virtual instruction

President Martha E. Pollack, Provost Mike Kotlikoff and Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi issued the following statement Jan. 6:

As we prepare for the start of the spring semester, we have been focusing on two important goals: protecting the health of our campus and the surrounding community and ensuring that our students have the best possible residential educational experience. And, as has been the case since the beginning of the pandemic, our planning relies heavily on the evolving scientific evidence.

While there is still much to learn about the Omicron variant that now is predominant in the United States, the scientific evidence is pointing toward an overall health risk that is lower than previous variants – especially among fully vaccinated and boosted populations such as we have at Cornell. The increased transmissibility of Omicron, however, makes it far more difficult to limit infection. Indeed, there is no way to entirely contain Omicron, just as there is no way to entirely eliminate influenza or other respiratory illnesses. Our focus needs to shift from counting positive cases to minimizing serious health risks.

Each semester since the pandemic began, the return of students from around the world has created a ripe opportunity for case spread. Our modeling suggests that Cornell could see a large number of cases during the first few weeks, although given our almost entirely vaccinated and largely boosted population, the vast majority of these cases will be mild or asymptomatic. This expected, early-semester spike poses several challenges for universities, given the need to provide sufficient isolation space and living support for students in isolation, as well as to prevent students from falling behind in classes.

To address these challenges, we will put in place several measures.

First, Cornell will implement pre-departure testing and enhanced arrival testing for students as we begin the semester at COVID-19 Alert Level Yellow, indicating moderate risk.

Second, we will provide an expanded move-in period to facilitate arrival testing in order to allow students to stagger their return and isolate in place if they test positive before departure. 

Third, we will begin the semester on Jan. 24, as planned, but with two weeks of virtual instruction through Feb. 4. This will ensure that anyone who tests positive during break, or shortly before their planned travel, can isolate at home and delay their return to Ithaca while using remote learning to avoid academic disruption. It will also enable remote learning for students who become positive during travel, or shortly after their return to campus. And it will provide protection against academic disruption for students whose travel may be interrupted, for example, because of the now-frequent airline cancellations.

Below you will find more information on these measures, as well as other steps we will be taking through the semester. Please read the following guidance and requirements carefully, keeping in mind that we may adjust some measures as local and national conditions evolve.

Positives Over Break

All students who tested positive for COVID-19 in December and over break must complete the “Self-Reported Positive” form on the Daily Check (available Jan. 10) as soon as they become aware of their positive status. This information is critical for Cornell, and it will exempt those students from testing for 90 days.

Pre-Departure and Enhanced Arrival Testing

All students who have not tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 90 days and completed the self-reported positive form must be tested (PCR or antigen) prior to returning to Ithaca. All pre-departure test results must be uploaded to the Daily Check.

On-Campus Housing

For students living in residence halls, cooperative housing, and residential fraternities and sororities this semester who have not tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 90 days:

  • Take a rapid antigen test 24 hours before you leave for Ithaca and upload results to Daily Check.
  • Students who test positive 24 hours prior to departure should isolate and remain where they are, delaying travel to campus until completing the CDC-recommended five-day isolation.
  • Upon arrival, you will pick up an antigen test on campus and will be responsible for uploading results of this test to the Daily Check within 24 hours of your scheduled arrival. If you need to adjust your arrival date, please do so in the Spring Checklist and in the Housing Portal.
  • Following arrival testing, you will be provided four additional antigen tests for twice weekly testing over the next two weeks. Students will be responsible for uploading the results of these four additional tests to the Daily Check.

Off-Campus Housing

For undergraduate, graduate or professional students living in off-campus housing who have not tested positive within the past 90 days:

  • Take a test (antigen or PCR) 24 hours before you leave for Ithaca and upload results to the Daily Check.
  • Update your arrival date in the Spring Checklist. You will be sent a link to schedule your arrival test at a Cornell PCR testing site closer to your arrival date.
  • Following arrival testing, you must schedule twice weekly tests for the following two weeks at Cornell PCR testing sites, using the Daily Check.

Please note: We understand that finding an antigen or PCR test may be challenging in some areas. Any undergraduate students who are unable to secure a pre-departure test should contact the university by Jan. 11 and an antigen test will be mailed to you. Look for additional instructions soon.

Unvaccinated students with university-approved exemptions will continue to be required to take twice weekly PCR tests for the entire semester, regardless of whether they live on campus or off campus.

Expanded Move-In for On-Campus Housing

Residence halls will open as planned on Jan. 18. Student move-in can occur any time up until the start of in-person classes on Feb. 7. We hope that this will lead to a staggered return to campus, which will enable us better to manage isolation needs. If you have a roommate, you should consider coordinating the dates of return, so that you do not both arrive at the same time. That way, if the first to arrive tests positive despite pre-departure testing, that person will be able to isolate in the residence hall.

Please update your planned arrival date in the Spring Checklist and the Housing Portal once you have finalized your plans. Students will receive additional communication from Cornell Housing with more move-in details.

Isolation

The university’s isolation protocols are at the direction of the Tompkins County Health Department, which is following recent CDC guidance that reduces the isolation time for asymptomatic individuals (and those with resolving symptoms) from ten to five days.

Students who test positive upon arrival and who live off campus, in cooperative housing and residential fraternities/sororities will isolate in place. Students who test positive upon arrival in residence halls will isolate in their rooms if living in a single room (or if your roommate(s) have not yet arrived or has also tested positive). Cornell will provide hotel rooms to the extent possible to students in on-campus housing who may need to isolate away from campus.

Virtual Instruction

As noted, all classes will be virtual for the first two weeks of the semester, from Jan. 24 to Feb. 4. In-person instruction will resume Feb. 7. Some professional school classes, at the discretion of the dean, may opt for in-person instruction beginning Jan. 24.

All students who test positive during pre-departure testing should remain at home and isolate, taking classes remotely and delaying their return to campus.

Student Life: Before Feb. 7

In-person student activities will be substantially limited until in-person classes resume Feb. 7. We also ask that you do not engage in informal social gatherings that will promulgate the spread of the virus during this time. Please help us keep Cornell safe and healthy by restricting social activity during these crucial two weeks.

Athletic events will continue, with proper protocols in place, as scheduled during these two weeks.

Dining halls will be open, with grab-and-go meals for the start of the semester.

Recreational facilities and libraries will remain open during this time, following current public health guidance on masking and density.

Masking

Along with vaccination and boosters, masks remain a critical part of reducing the spread of the virus. All faculty, staff and students must comply with the University’s masking policy, utilizing high quality masks, worn correctly. Updated guidance recommends N95/KN95 as the most effective to preventing Omicron. Cloth masks on their own no longer meet Cornell standards for protection. Cornell plans to provide high-quality (e.g., N95, KN95) masks to campus community members who need them.

Boosters

As a reminder: Cornell requires all students, staff, and faculty to get a COVID-19 booster upon eligibility. Obtaining a booster prior to returning to campus is highly recommended as supplies in Tompkins County are limited. Please upload your results to the Daily Check if you have not done so.

Spring Semester Forum

Please join us at a virtual forum for students and families Jan. 12 at which we will review our start-of-semester plans.

Preparing for the Spring 2022 Semester
Wednesday, Jan. 12 at 4:30 p.m. ET

Registration link: https://cornell.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_MQ25SWZjRJeLuoGRp5BdDw

We acknowledge that these past two years have been quite challenging and all of us are frustrated and tired from the impact of the pandemic. Nonetheless, we must continue to be personally accountable for adhering to all public health guidance and university measures to enable us to continue to provide the kind of residential educational experience that we so value.

We are grateful for your ongoing flexibility and attention to these critical public health measures, and while the Omicron variant has once again changed the trajectory of this virus, we are optimistic that we are on the path to a sustainable and happier future. We wish you all the very best.

Media Contact

Jeffrey Martin