While Tompkins County has no confirmed cases of COVID-19, New York City —the location of both Weill Cornell Medicine and Cornell Tech — is in the epicenter of an outbreak with more than 300 cases between New York City and nearby Westchester County.
Cornell Tech transitioned to online classes on March 12, and Weill Cornell Medical followed, announcing the shift to online classes earlier in the week.
Despite Cornell Tech’s move to online instruction, major facilities, including main residence hall The House and its on-campus cafe are still in operation. Employees at Cornell Tech are expected to carry out their duties as normal, unless they are feeling ill.
While Weill Cornell has transitioned its lectures to digital alternatives, there are educational activities that cannot as easily be transitioned online, like cadaver dissections, clinical rounds and laboratory work.
The top-tier medical school is structured in a way that students spend the first year-and-a-half studying in a traditional classroom setting. For these students, the transition to digital education was not new.
“A lot of med students are used to watching lectures online because they record and post them. From my experience half of [the students] would go to lecture and half of them would watch them online,” said Arpita Bose, a third-year medical student at Weill Cornell Medicine.
To adapt, larger lectures will be substituted with archival recordings from previous years, while smaller group discussions will be conducted via video conferencing.
In the middle of their second year, students begin clinical rotations, following physicians in traditional medical settings.
For these students, circumstances are ever-evolving. Currently, those in clinical rotations are expected to report to their rounds as normal, but are prohibited from interacting with individuals that have tested positive, or are being tested for COVID-19, according to Bose.
As it stands, student researchers are continuing their activities, but principal investigators have been asked to weigh the benefit of continued research against the possible risk of interacting with a patient that knowingly or unknowingly has COVID-19.
With these unprecedented circumstances come many fast-evolving questions that have yet to be answered.
“I think everything is so fast paced and everything is changing so quickly it’s hard to get a good understanding of whether or not we should be concerned or what we should be telling friends and family,” Bose said.
University administration is doing its best to answer these questions, interacting with different student committees to provide the necessary information and resources should any students test positive for COVID-19.
One question that looms over the administration is the status of graduation and “match day” — a momentous day where medical students are told where they will complete their residency and spend the next several years of their lives.
Match day is the cumulation of years of work for medical students, similar to high school students receiving college acceptances. However, many schools are canceling Match Day festivities in light of the necessity for social distancing.
Fellow New York City medical schools, including Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, have canceled their events.
The administration at Weill Cornell is hesitant to cancel these significant occasions, according to Bose, but it is closely monitoring the spread of the pandemic and assessing the possible risk of these gatherings.