Updates on campus testing and public health measures

Aug. 30, 2021

Dear Ithaca campus community,

Since we communicated with you on Friday afternoon, we have heard from faculty, staff, students and parents with questions and concerns that run the gamut from urging us to move to remote classroom instruction to asking us to lift the additional public health measures that we instituted with our shift to COVID-19 Alert Level Yellow. This is an extremely stressful time for all of us, and we continue to be grateful both for your patience as we respond to current campus conditions and the continued dedication of the Cornell community to learning, discovery and well-being amid extraordinary challenges. While our comprehensive surveillance testing has identified more positive cases among students than we had hoped, we emphasize that to date there have been no cases of serious illness.

As we noted on Friday, our decision-making continues to be informed by the science; and the science continues to indicate that our approach to an in-person semester is safe and that risk of infection is minimal when we collectively follow public health guidance. Additionally, it remains the case that if a vaccinated individual is infected, the risk of serious illness is very small.

  • Our expanded surveillance testing program is working – it is identifying positive cases and enabling us to test close contacts as well as other people who may have had close interactions with those who tested positive (i.e., adaptive testing). Our adaptive testing protocols consider everything from where students live, to what activities they participate in and what classes they take, and they provide us both with the best possible chance of identifying all cases quickly and with understanding transmission patterns;
  • The positive cases that have been identified over the weekend continue to be overwhelmingly associated with informal, off-campus gatherings of groups of undergraduate students;
  • These students are isolated — protecting the larger community — and support systems are being enhanced to assure continued academic progress of isolated students;
  • Students who have tested positive are overwhelmingly asymptomatic or experiencing only mild symptoms;
  • Our data continue to suggest that — with vaccination, masking and testing — it is safe to be in the classroom and in other structured environments and activities on campus:
    • The risk of in-class transmission is minimal;
    • Masks are available to all who need them and are required to be worn outside when on campus (when physical distancing cannot be maintained) and inside campus buildings, except for private, non-shared spaces or when eating/drinking; and
    • The university’s ventilation systems were upgraded last year to increase the rate of air turnover. While some classrooms also had fans placed in them last year, further analysis showed that these did not enhance safety.
  • To date we have no evidence of transmission of infection to university personnel as part of our teaching or research programs.

As we have for the past 18 months, we will continue to collect and closely analyze data from our surveillance testing and contact tracing, and we will continue to make informed, science-based decisions regarding campus operations. We will provide an update by the end of the week.

Please know that our goal remains to do everything we can to preserve both the student educational experience and the well-being of our whole community, and we thank all of you who have adjusted personal behaviors (e.g., wearing masks indoors and outdoors when in groups) as we work to keep our campus community and the greater Ithaca community safe.

Thank you for your continued dedication to our campus and to Cornell.


Michael Kotlikoff

Ryan Lombardi
Vice President for Student and Campus Life

Mary Opperman
Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer