Surveillance Testing

All students living on campus or in the greater Ithaca area, as well as faculty and staff who are reporting to the Ithaca or Geneva campuses, are required to participate in Cornell’s surveillance testing program. Surveillance testing continues throughout the fall semester.

Because COVID-19 infection is often asymptomatic, early identification of individuals harboring the virus requires regular surveillance testing to monitor – and respond to – any potential spread among the Cornell community.

Testing compliance is mandated by the Cornell Student Behavioral Compact and the Daily Check employee expectations attestation for those faculty and staff approved to be on campus regularly.

Daily Check: Your Hub for Scheduling and Notifications

The Daily Check app serves as the hub for your surveillance testing details, providing your assigned testing day(s), testing frequency and access to schedule your test. All surveillance tests require a scheduled appointment. Banner notifications will display in the Daily Check with actions steps, such as reminders and when it is time to schedule. Walk-in appointments are not permitted.

How notification and scheduling works:

  • Day before assigned test day: A blue notification banner will appear at top of Daily Check reminding you that tomorrow is your test day. After 4 p.m., the banner will feature a link that you must follow in order to schedule an appointment for your test.
  • Appointments are required for surveillance testing. Advanced scheduling is not an option at this time; walk-in appointments are not permitted.
  • Additional notification banners will appear if you miss a test or do not schedule promptly.
  • There is no scheduling action required until you are prompted to do so on the day of your test.
Learn how to add the daily check website to your phone (PDF)

Testing Frequency, Locations & Hours

Testing frequency will vary by group. Information about testing, including scheduled tests, can be found in the Daily Check. It is critical that all community members adhere to the testing schedule. If your assigned surveillance testing day(s) will not work with your schedule, please use this form to request a change.

Using Daily Check, students, faculty and staff may schedule their surveillance test for any site location, unless otherwise noted.

Robert Purcell Community Center, Multipurpose Room, Room 218

  • Hours: Monday to Friday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
    Saturday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Parking: N/A

Willard Straight Hall, Library, Room 404

  • Hours: Monday to Friday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
    Saturday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Parking: Five reserved spaces in WSH metered lot

Bartels Hall, Balcony, 554 Campus Road

  • Hours: Monday to Friday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Parking: Lot between Bartels Hall and Friedman Wrestling Center

Sage Chapel, 147 Ho Plaza

  • Hours: Monday to Friday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
    Saturday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Parking: N/A

ILR Conference Center, King Shaw Hall, Rooms 225 and 229

  • Hours: Monday to Friday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Parking: Five reserved spaces along Garden Avenue

College of Veterinary Medicine, Classroom 6

  • Hours: Monday to Friday 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
    Saturday to Sunday 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Parking: Permit parking near CVM
  • Notes: CVM students and employees only; building only accessible by valid ID card.

Collegetown, Dryden Road and College Avenue

  • Hours: Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
    Saturday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Parking: N/A

East Hill Plaza, Human Resources Training Room, Suite 345

  • Hours: Monday to Friday 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Parking: Ample parking
  • Notes: This site is reserved for employee testing.
  • You will see a notification banner in the Daily Check the day before your testing day. After 4 p.m., the banner will feature a link that you must follow in order to schedule an appointment for your test.
  • Tested twice weekly regardless of course modality. (Mon/Thurs, Tues/Fri, Wed/Sat, Thurs/Sun, Fri/Mon, Sat/Tues, Sun/Wed)
  • A limited exemption waiver process is available for undergraduates with no on-campus activity and for whom weekly testing is a demonstrated hardship. Exemptions will also be considered for religious holidays and for those who will be away from campus. If you have a more immediate need for this, please contact studentdchelp@cornell.edu. Students seeking an exemption due to medical reasons should contact sds_cu@cornell.edu for assistance.
  • Required by the Cornell Student Behavioral Compact.
  • You will see a notification banner in the Daily Check the day before your testing day. After 4 p.m., the banner will feature a link that you must follow in order to schedule an appointment for your test.
  • Tested weekly, Monday to Friday, regardless of course modality.
  • DVM students will be provided additional information specific to their program.
  • A limited exemption waiver process is available for professional degree students with no on-campus activity and for whom weekly testing is a demonstrated hardship. Exemptions will also be considered for religious holidays and for those who will be away from campus. If you have a more immediate need for this, please contact studentdchelp@cornell.edu. Students seeking an exemption due to medical reasons should contact sds_cu@cornel.edu for assistance.
  • Required by the Cornell Student Behavioral Compact.
  • You will see a notification banner in the Daily Check the day before your testing day. After 4 p.m., the banner will feature a link that you must follow in order to schedule an appointment for your test.
  • Tested weekly, Monday to Friday, regardless of course modality.
  • A petition process is 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 is a demonstrated hardship. Exemptions will also be considered for religious holidays and for those who will be away from campus. If you have a more immediate need for this, please contact studentdchelp@cornell.edu. Students seeking an exemption due to medical reasons should contact sds_cu@cornel.edu for assistance.
  • Required by the Cornell Student Behavioral Compact.
  • Faculty and staff approved for reporting to campus can access the Daily Check in order to view your testing frequency and assigned testing day. You will see a notification banner in the Daily Check the day before your testing day. After 4 p.m., the banner will feature a link that you must follow in order to schedule an appointment for your test.
  • On your assigned testing day, complete your Daily Health assessment before proceeding to campus. If cleared, arrive at your testing location a few minutes before your appointment. Do not reserve multiple appointments, as doing so limits the ability to offer appointments to others.
  • Tested twice weekly: Employees who are regularly (two days or more per week on average) on campus and have routine contact with students and/or regularly work in close proximity to others in circumstances that don’t allow physical distancing.
  • Tested weekly: Employees who are regularly on campus (on average two days or more per week).
  • Tested every other week: Employees who are infrequently on campus (on average fewer than two days per week).
  • No required testing: Employees working 100% remotely and not in the Daily Check in order to work on campus.
  • Changing frequency of testing: If you work arrangement changes, or if you do not plan to come to campus for an extended period of time, it is recommended that you talk with your supervisor about adjusting your on campus presence and/or testing group as appropriate. If your supervisor is in agreement, they will work with HR to make the appropriate adjustment. If your need changes again, you must be added back into the Daily Check and testing program before proceeding to campus.
  • Testing requirements for employees with limited to no interaction with students: This program is designed to help protect all of our employees and the communities in which we live and work. If you are accessing campus, or another Cornell location in Ithaca, Geneva or Tompkins County for work, regardless of whether you have regular interactions with students or other employees, you must participate in the surveillance testing program.
  • For the convenience of employees and to help limit lines at other testing sites, Cornell operates a sampling site at the Human Resources Training Room, Suite 345, located at East Hill Plaza from 7:30 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday – Friday.
  • Required by Employee Expectations outlined in Daily Check.
  • Cornell is developing a testing methodology that will provide more flexibility for third-shift workers to be able to complete surveillance testing during their working hours.

Preparing for Your Test

What to Expect

  1. Be punctual for your appointment to help keep lines moving; walk-ins are not allowed.
  2. Bring photo identification and plan 15 to 20 minutes to complete your appointment.
  3. Follow the steps outlined in the video below.
  4. Continue your normal activities (with strict adherence to mask wearing and social distancing).
  5. You will only be contacted if evidence of COVID-19 is detected from your sample, in which case the Tompkins County Health Department will contact you. Please be sure to answer calls from a 607 area code, even if the caller is not listed in your contacts; it may be the health department calling with important information.

Sampling Method

All surveillance sites operate under the same protocol for supervised self-collection of anterior nares (front of the nostril) samples. Anterior nares sampling is a simple, noninvasive nasal swab. Surveillance samples will be sent to the Cornell COVID-19 Testing Laboratory for processing. Watch this short video to familiar yourself with the sampling process beforehand.

PCR Testing and the Possibility of False Negatives/Positives

No medical test is 100% accurate, and tests for COVID-19 are no exception. Nevertheless, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests have played a critical role in responding to the pandemic and, where used aggressively, have helped to minimize spread. Among the widely used sample sources for PCR testing, most studies have shown nasopharyngeal (NP) swabs to be most sensitive (i.e., fewer false negative results), with sensitivity estimates during the relevant part of an infection’s time course ranging from 70 to 90%. Cornell uses this sampling method for testing upon students’ arrival —as well as for testing for cause in individuals showing symptoms and as a confirmatory test following positive surveillance test results — as it provides the greatest chance of minimizing false negative results. PCR tests for COVID-19 are typically highly specific (i.e., few false positive results) because the tests detect genetic sequences unique to the virus that causes COVID-19. Laboratory results from around the country using the same testing methodology as Cornell suggest that the false positive rate among people who are actually free of COVID-19 is considerably less than 1%. Cornell seeks to minimize false positives in its testing wherever possible due to significant disruptions to individuals who are determined positive (isolation for 14 days and identification and quarantine of close contacts).