As COVID-19 continues to spread worldwide, faculty, students and staff traveling back to campus from countries most affected by the disease will be quarantined for 14 days, according to an email sent to the Cornell community on Monday.
The Office of the Dean also emailed Cornell faculty members, warning them that they must now prepare for a possible COVID-19 case on campus.
In response to U.S. government warnings against travel to Italy and Iran, as well as new screening protocols from China, South Korea, Italy and Iran, the University is suspending the College of Architecture, Art and Planning’s Cornell in Rome program and is in contact with students who are still in Italy and South Korea.
The University is encouraging students, faculty and staff to quarantine at home, but is working with some students to quarantine off-campus in Ithaca. Quarantined employees will receive paid leave.
According to Cornell’s coronavirus webpage, Cornell Health is preparing quarantine kits that include thermometers, face masks as well as temperature and symptom logs. Students quarantined in Ithaca will get daily calls from a Tompkins County Health Department nurse.
The email to Cornell faculty mentioned the prospect of contingency plans, and linked to a University Faculty webpage that gives information to instructors teaching amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.
“As the current global COVID-19 health crisis continues to develop, it is important for instructors to be prepared for an array of possible disruptions that affect teaching,” the webpage read. It is unclear when this webpage was created.
Prof. Gary Whittaker, virology, researches coronaviruses and expressed concerns over cases in New York City and Rhode Island seem unlinked to travel to China, where the outbreak originated. In the absence of established treatments for the illness, Whittaker said social distancing measures like limiting large gatherings of people may be effective.
“There’s a case in New York City, it’s in Rhode Island,” Whittaker said. “These are cases with no obvious link to travel to China or link to travel from China. We have to be prepared for community-wide spread. That could happen.”
The webpage details multiple distance learning initiatives for faculty members, including using online learning options on Canvas, Zoom for video conferences and Kaltura for video instruction, in video-quizzes and video submissions. In the event there is a COVID-19 case on campus, CTI is preparing guidelines for establishing online office hours, discussion forums and other initiatives that will be accessible to students and faculty.
Cornell is not the only university suspending study abroad programs.
New York University, Syracuse University, Fairfield University and Elon University have paused abroad programs in Italy. Syracuse students were asked to return to the U.S., and NYU ultimately “urged students to leave Florence for this time period,” said NYU spokesperson John Beckman in a statement. NYU students studying in Florence will now finish classes online.
So far, the outbreak has most heavily impacted mainland China, South Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan. The Centers for Disease Control designated level 3 travel warnings — recommending to avoid any nonessential travel — to all of these countries except for Japan.
Japan currently has a level 2 travel warning, which recommends taking “enhanced precautions” — the country has 961 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Monday afternoon.
Due to a national shortage of masks, Cornell Health will not provide more than one mask per visit per person with symptoms unless they meet with a medical provider for an appointment. Those who want to buy in bulk could consider buying online, but many vendors have already sold out.
“While Cornell Health has a sufficient supply of masks to meet patient care/infection control needs, its pharmacy no longer has the inventory required to support the sale of masks in bulk to the general public,” Cornell Health’s website read.
As the novel coronavirus outbreak continues to spread worldwide, the number of cases in the U.S. has recently increased. There are currently 96 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. as of Monday afternoon. The virus has afflicted nearly 89,000 people in at least 67 countries.
While there are currently no confirmed cases in upstate New York, New York City saw its first case of coronavirus on Sunday, prompting Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) to say at a press conference on Monday that the disease was likely to further spread in the city.
Despite saying that risk for COVID-19 in Ithaca remains low, the Tompkins County Health Department also issued a notice on Thursday acknowledging the potential for coronavirus to become a pandemic. The notice reiterated that the risk for infection in Tompkins County remains low, and University has repeatedly maintained that the risk of an outbreak on campus is unlikely.
While experts have said that rising temperatures during the spring and summer could mitigate the disease’s spread, Whittaker said that it was possible for this epidemic to be drawn out.
“We may be lucky that the outbreak coincides with spring, but it may come back in the fall,” Whittaker said. “We have to be ready for the possibility that this could be drawn out. It’s unpredictable, it’s hard to know for sure.”