COVID-19 variants

January 28, 2021

Dear Cornellians,

As we welcome you back to campus and prepare for the start of the semester, it is important to recognize the continued impacts of COVID-19 and the role that we must all play to help mitigate these risks.

Higher rates of COVID-19 infection nationwide, combined with the emergence of new, more contagious virus variants, pose new challenges for the spring semester. As noted on Jan. 15, the new, more contagious “U.K. variant” was recently identified in the Ithaca area, and without strict adherence to public health measures, this and other emerging variants may become more prevalent. This underscores the importance of following the university’s arrival testing and quarantine process as soon as you arrive in the Ithaca area. As noted in Ryan’s recent message, we need your cooperation to ensure the safety of our community as you return.

Get tested prior to your arrival

New York state requires students arriving from noncontiguous states to either take a COVID-19 test within three days of departure or be prepared to self-quarantine for 10 days upon arrival. A new order from the CDC mandates that, effective Jan. 26, all passengers traveling to the U.S. on an international flight produce a negative COVID-19 test before boarding their flight.

While not required, it is strongly encouraged that students arriving from neighboring states also get tested before arriving in Ithaca. Through arrival testing, we are already identifying students from contiguous states who have tested positive, but were asymptomatic. These students are receiving care and, because their infections were caught quickly, were able to be isolated so that others would not be infected. It is a best practice to secure the results of your testing before you travel from any location. As such, we encourage you to get tested and know your status before you begin your journey back to Ithaca.

Quarantine and isolation reminders

When you are in travel quarantine, you may not leave the quarantine location, with exception of traveling on your own, by foot, for testing or to Cornell Health if you need medical care. We know from Cornell’s fall semester experience that travel increases risk of COVID-19 eight-fold, so adherence to quarantine guidelines is vital to keeping yourself protected from infection and reducing further community spread. Anyone completing travel quarantine should not leave their quarantine location for any reason for the required 4-day period, and may not have visitors coming and going from that location during that time.

Of note, mandatory quarantine for confirmed COVID-19 exposure is slightly different from travel quarantine. Mandatory quarantine (and isolation for COVID-19 infection) require a minimum of 10 days. Everyone in mandatory quarantine must remain by themselves with no visitors or social gatherings of any kind. Engaging in social gatherings while in quarantine or isolation puts yourself and your community at risk and does not meet the university’s guidance and expectations for COVID-19 safety. Please do your part to uphold the shared community goals we have established to have a successful semester.

Additional quarantine guidance and guidelines are available through the Tompkins County Health Department and Cornell Health. Cornell Health also provides answers to the questions most often asked by students in quarantine/isolation.

Follow all public health guidance

We understand that many of our students are arriving from locations where public health measures may be more relaxed than those here in Ithaca. Let us be clear: while at Cornell, you are responsible for following the university and New York state public health guidance. This has never been more important, given how easily certain new COVID-19 strains can be spread from person to person.

Our community met this challenge head-on last semester, and we know that you can do it again this spring. Wear a mask, practice physical distancing, wash your hands, complete the Daily Check every day, stay home if you are feeling ill, avoid unnecessary travel or having visitors to Ithaca and do not gather in large groups.

Also, a reminder that to protect the health of our campus and local community, students must meet a flu vaccine requirement. Those who do not meet their requirement by February 15 will not be able to enter campus facilities or attend classes beginning February 16.

These measures will allow us to keep our campus and surrounding communities safe, and pave the way for a successful spring semester.


Ryan Lombardi
Vice President for Student and Campus Life

Sharon McMullen
Assistant Vice President for Health and Wellbeing, Student and Campus Life