Ashley He / Sun Staff Photographer

Tompkins County said the risk of COVID-19 in the region remains low at a Monday press conference. The county reported its third confirmed case of COVID-19 on Tuesday.

March 10, 2020

With New York State Cases of COVID-19 on the Rise, Professors Experiment with Alternatives to In-Person Lectures

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As of Monday noon, New York state has reported 142 confirmed cases of COVID-19.  With the number of reported cases on the rise, Cornell professors are bracing themselves for the possibility of class cancellations.

According to Jason Molino, county administrator for Tompkins County, there are no cases of COVID-19 in Tompkins County. Despite one individual being under investigation the burden of the virus on the county remains minimal at the moment.

These assurances regarding the county come after New York state declared a state of emergency on Saturday. Even before the declaration of a state of emergency Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) allocated $40 million dollars to resources necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

As it stands, Tompkins County has not received direct aid, but as the circumstances evolve, this could change in the coming weeks, according to Molino.

“We are going to be closing schools for weeks,” Cuomo said at a March 9 press conference.

Public schools in Scarsdale have already closed for the week, while officials in other districts, like New Rochelle, are closely monitoring the situation.

Despite the lack of any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Tompkins County, professors have begun altering attendance policies and trialing distance learning practices that could be utilized in the event that in-person classes are suspended.

Prof. Steven Elias Alvarado, sociology, who teaches Sociology 1104: Race and Ethnicity in the United States: Social Constructs, Real World Consequences and Sociology 2208: Social Inequality is experimenting with Zoom in both classes to prepare for the possibility of class cancellations.

“Out of concern for students’ physical and psychological health, I have given students the option to not attend in person class if they (or their parents) do not feel comfortable with in person attendance,” Alvarado said in an email to The Sun.

Alvarado also expressed in an email to both classes that in the event that classes move to an online format, exams will most likely be take-home.

Students in Government 2169: Survey Data in the Information Age were also informed in class today that attendance is optional. As it stands, the most popular substitute for in-person lectures and classes are Zoom video conferences, where professors broadcast their lessons to their student via the online software.

Prof. Bruce Monger, earth and atmospheric sciences, teaches Earth and Atmospheric Sciences 3540: Ocean Satellite Remote Sensing and is bracing for the possibility of class cancellations.  Given that EAS 3540 is only a nine-week class, Monger is prepared to cancel the remaining lab classes if the administration were to cancel all in-person classes.The University did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

“As with most faculty, I am monitoring the status of COVID-19 pretty closely and trying to think ahead of how best to keep students safe,” Monger said in an email to The Sun.

Other students expressed concern for the way in which the University is handling class attendance policies.

“Honestly I think that the university should switch to Zoom classes entirely because putting a student’s health in jeopardy also puts their family members at risk, especially those who are older and more susceptible to the virus,” said Sammi Minion ’21. “I think it just needs to be considered that low risk does not mean zero risk.”

In the past week, other Ivy League universities have modified attendance policies in light of the recent epidemic. Following the quarantine of an individual in Columbia University, the university has canceled all classes until Wednesday and has shifted to virtual instruction until its spring recess, which begins March 16.

Another New York City university, Fordham University, closed amid concerns regarding COVID-19. Classes were suspended Monday and Tuesday, with online instruction resuming Wednesday. The suspension arose when a student, who commuted to school via the subway, exhibited symptoms consistent with the virus.

Princeton University has also enacted a policy intended to promote social distancing, which has been touted as a method to curb the spread of the virus. The policy, which moves all lectures, seminars and precepts to a virtual format, will be in effect starting March 23.

While it is unclear if all classes in Ithaca will be taught via distance learning, the shift to digital instruction has already begun at Weill Cornell Medicine’s Qatar campus. Based on directives from Qatar’s Government and Qatar Foundation, WCM-Q released a statement on its website, saying that they will suspend all in-person classes as of Tuesday, March 10.

The number of confirmed cases in Qatar rose to 15 on Sunday, prompting the closure of many schools and universities in addition to the banning of travelers from 14 countries.

“Until further notice, in order to continue with the educational programs, we will leverage technology-based solutions to deliver the curriculum,” the website read.