Increase in COVID-19 cases and the future of campus operations

March 19, 2021

Dear Ithaca Students,

As you recently learned, a disturbing increase in the number of COVID-19 cases within our student body has forced the university to move to COVID-19 Alert Level Yellow. Even more disturbing than the number of new cases is what is behind those numbers: a blatant disregard by some students for the public health requirements contained in the Behavioral Compact that each of you have agreed to uphold.

Over the past week alone, we have seen 74 new positive cases among our student body – about half are associated with first-year students living on North Campus, and many of the others linked to community spread in Greek-life organizations, athletic teams, on- and off-campus parties, and travel outside of the Ithaca area.

Also, we are seeing an extremely concerning increase in the numbers of students who are consistently missing their required surveillance testing and failing to complete the Daily Check health assessments. Surveillance testing is our bulwark against the transmission of infection, and every missed test carries the risk of spreading the virus within our community. Moreover, some students have either refused to comply with contact tracing or provided false information. These students may think they are protecting their friends by not identifying them as contacts, but they are, in fact, putting themselves and others at risk, including the most vulnerable among us. Remember: health conditions of immunocompromised individuals are not always visible. Cooperating with contact tracing makes the whole community, including your friends and loved ones, safer.

These behavioral expectations are not optional. Failure to adhere to guidelines around facial coverings and gatherings, failure to meet your required testing schedule or to complete the Daily Check health assessment, and failure to provide a full and accurate account of your contacts if you contract the virus are all violations of the Behavioral Compact. And those who are found to be in violation will face disciplinary action. A number of individual students and student organizations have already faced or are in the process of facing serious repercussions for their actions.

Cornellians, we are at a crossroads. Previously, when we have moved to Alert Level Yellow students were quick to course-correct and curb risky behaviors. While we fervently hope that you will once again rise to the challenge, we want to be clear about what failing to do so would mean. If current trends were to continue, we would soon be forced to move to Alert Level Orange and all in-person gatherings could be prohibited; gyms and recreation centers could close; all courses could move to fully online instruction; and students could be required to stay in their rooms or apartments, except to get food or go for testing. After that, the only remaining recourse would be to send all students back to their permanent homes – an action that no one wants to see happen.

Now is the time for each of you to recommit yourself not only to full compliance with the Behavioral Compact, but also to actively urge your peers to do so as well. We are all counting on you.


Martha E. Pollack

Michael I. Kotlikoff