Preparing for the spring semester

December 10, 2020

Please note: New York State recently changed its quarantine guidelines. Students arriving from noncontiguous state and international locations who are not able to take a COVID-19 test within three days of their departure for Ithaca must quarantine for 10 days upon arrival (previously 14 days).

Dear Cornellians,

We’ve made it to the final stretch of the semester. While it has undoubtedly been quite the year for all of us, I know many of you are also eager to learn about our spring plans. Shortly before Thanksgiving, President Pollack announced the university’s plan to follow the 2020-21 academic calendar, with classes beginning on Feb. 8. Similar to the current semester, classes will continue to be offered in a variety of modalities, including in-person, online and hybrid approaches.

While there are still uncertainties with the progression of the virus and potential changes to federal and state guidelines, I hope the information below will assist you in planning for a safe and timely return to Ithaca. In addition, please join me and other university leaders for a virtual forum open to all students and parents on Dec. 16 beginning at 1 p.m. EDT. Registration is required and attendees can submit questions in advance.

Spring Checklist

Similar to the start of the fall semester, we will again have a checklist that all students – whether remote or joining us in Ithaca – must complete. The checklist includes multiple actions for students to complete before they can finalize enrollment in spring courses. Failure to complete the checklist can also impact a student’s ability to move-in or access campus facilities. We will send a separate message when the checklist opens later this month.

In addition to the checklist, undergraduate students with on-campus housing contracts (other than university-owned Greek housing) will receive an email from the housing portal tomorrow, which will provide more details about the move-in process. Cornell Housing will ask you for additional details about your return plans and you will be able to select a move-in day and time based on the location from which you are arriving.

Student Behavioral Compact

The Student Behavioral Compact, and all expectations outlined within, will continue in the spring semester. This includes mask wearing, physical distancing, travel restrictions, limitations on gatherings and in-person events, rules for visitors and flu shot requirements.

  • Travel restrictions: As noted in previous messages, there will be a more rigorous approval process for any non-essential personal student travel. Students planning to return to the Ithaca area this spring should be prepared to remain here for the duration of the semester with limited-to-no personal travel outside of the greater Ithaca area. If, based on your personal preferences, remaining in Ithaca for the entire semester will be difficult for you, we ask that you reconsider returning for the spring and instead plan to take your courses remotely.
  • In-person activities: Similar to the fall semester, we anticipate in-person activities, including student organizations, club sports and access to fitness and recreation centers to begin once we are assured that the prevalence of COVID-19 on campus is low. Virtual events and other online programs are again being developed for the spring semester starting with orientation and move-in week programming.
  • Visitors: Cornell’s travel and visitor policy prohibits visitors from entering campus facilities, including residence halls throughout the duration of the spring semester. Visitors include parents, alumni and friends who are not part of the Cornell community as well as Cornell students who do not have permission to be on campus. Please help us keep the campus community safe by not entering residence halls unless you are approved to do so (i.e., participating in Daily Check and regular surveillance testing).
  • Flu shots: The Student Behavioral Compact requires all students to receive a flu vaccination. While most students have received their flu vaccine, any students who have not requested an exemption will be required to show proof of a vaccination at the start of the spring semester. Students are strongly encouraged to get the flu vaccine prior to returning to Ithaca. Those who are unable to do so can attend one of two vaccine clinics on campus that are planned for early February.

Planning Your Arrival

Whether you are returning to Ithaca for the spring or joining us for the first time, coordinating your arrival will require significant planning. In addition to many New York state and university-imposed requirements summarized below, we will also have to contend with the unpredictability of the winter weather, staggering arrival with off-campus roommates and the possibility of COVID-19 exposure that will add isolation or quarantine time into an already complicated schedule. Please begin your planning now, taking into consideration that flexibility will be needed.

Preparing for Travel

Arrival requirements for quarantine and testing are determined by the location that you are traveling from. Currently, New York state requirements for those arriving from a noncontiguous state or international location are stricter than requirements for those arriving from contiguous states (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, or Vermont) or another region of New York. No matter where you might be traveling from, I encourage you to self-quarantine one week prior to your arrival in order to further reduce the likelihood of contracting the virus, as well as follow all other public health guidance.

Noncontiguous State and International Arrivals

As announced in a message to students on Nov. 18, New York state issued new guidelines to allow travelers arriving from noncontiguous states and international locations to “test out” of the mandatory 14-day travel-related quarantine. This requires that travelers obtain a test within three days prior to arrival in New York state. This does not eliminate the need for travelers to quarantine, but rather reduces the amount of time needed in quarantine, pending two negative test results within a five-to-seven day period.

Please note that students are responsible for all aspects of their pre-arrival testing and quarantine requirements. Financial support for pre-arrival testing costs may be available for qualifying students. If students are unable to obtain a pre-arrival test three days before arriving in New York, they should plan their own full 14-day quarantine period as required by New York state, before coming to campus or utilizing Cornell’s testing program. Cornell Housing will not provide any 14-day travel quarantine accommodations for students.

Spring arrival testing and quarantine for all students, whether living on or off campus, and regardless of locations, are outlined on the COVID-19 website. Students who have remained in the Ithaca area since December and have continued with surveillance testing will not be required to undergo additional arrival testing; they will continue with routine surveillance testing.

Please bear in mind that the information outlined above, and on the COVID-19 website, represents our current situation and planning. It is possible that New York state could modify its guidelines based on the prevalence of COVID-19 transmission. Continue to monitor your Cornell email for updates, including the link for the spring checklist, over the coming weeks.

Throughout this fall you were diligent in your commitment to public health. Please remember to continue to do so even in your own communities. As cases rise throughout the country, it is even more important now that we continue to lead by example.

Best of luck as you prepare for finals and the end of the semester!


Ryan Lombardi
Vice President for Student and Campus Life