Cornell to ease mask requirements March 14

Provost Michael Kotlikoff, Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi and Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Mary Opperman issued the following statement March 11:

With the prevalence of COVID-19 declining nationally, altered masking guidelines from the CDC and Tompkins County and NYC Health Departments, and the fact that the vast majority of cases among our community have been mild or asymptomatic, Cornell is initiating a phased approach to relaxing our mask requirements.

Beginning Monday, March 14, face mask requirements will be lifted for the majority of on-campus locations. High-quality masks will, however, continue to be required in the following spaces and circumstances:

  • Students and instructors in classrooms, laboratories and similar teaching settings. Faculty who are able to maintain physical distance from others while teaching may choose to do so unmasked.
  • Health care and COVID-19 testing facilities (including Cornell Health). The College of Veterinary Medicine will provide future mask guidance for diagnostic and clinical facilities.
  • Buses and Cornell-owned vehicles being utilized for multi-occupancy travel.

As with all of Cornell’s pandemic-related decisions to date, the decision to relax our mask requirements in phases is supported by scientific modeling. Our modeling predicts that SARS-CoV-2 will continue to be transmitted over the coming weeks, but that it will not exceed our capacity to isolate students. And as noted, infections have overwhelmingly resulted in mild symptoms. However, COVID-19 has not gone away – the virus remains on our campus and it is likely that we will see modest increases in infections on campus, as we have again this week. For these reasons we will continue to require masks in the settings described above until prevalence stabilizes or begins to fall so that we can be sure to have adequate isolation space. 

The choice to continue masking, even when not required, is a personal one, and no one should be made to feel uncomfortable because of their choice. It is well established that wearing a mask while indoors reduces the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19. Individuals who are concerned about the risk of infection are encouraged to continue to wear a mask, and we ask that all members of our community support and respect one another’s masking choices. Vaccination remains the best protection against serious illness and we urge those who have not yet been vaccinated or boosted to do so.

As outlined in guidance from the Tompkins County Health Department and NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene (for employees), and Cornell Health (for students), individuals who enter isolation or quarantine must wear a well-fitting mask around others for five days after their quarantine or isolation period ends. And, anyone experiencing symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 should wear a mask and access symptomatic testing.

Surveillance testing requirements remain in place for unvaccinated or unboosted students, faculty and staff. In the coming weeks, Cornell will continue to monitor the prevalence of COVID-19 on campus and may make additional adjustments to its masking and testing guidelines.

We’re grateful to all of our students, faculty and staff who have complied with masking, physical distancing, vaccination and testing during the pandemic; efforts that have allowed our community to continue to pursue its education, research and engagement mission.