Hannah Rosenberg / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

The Arts Quad on March 13, 2020. Administrators explain in a town hall Friday why Cornell unexpectedly reversed its decision to provide quarantine accommodations for students.

July 31, 2020

Administrators Outline Thursday’s ‘Excruciating Decision’ at Latest Town Hall

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After announcing a plan to bring students back to campus with heavy regulations, Cornell abruptly backtracked on its promise Thursday night to provide quarantine accommodations for all students living on campus.

In a virtual town hall on Friday, administrators explained why Cornell suddenly reversed its plan and outlined the move-in process for students returning to Ithaca in the coming weeks. With a little over a month before classes start, students living on campus have not yet received move-in dates, and Cornellians still haven’t enrolled in classes for the fall semester.

Cornell originally planned to provide all students living on campus with quarantine accommodations in residence halls or hotels. Now, students coming to Ithaca from states on New York’s travel advisory list must find their own 14-day quarantine arrangements in New York or in another state not on the list.

But Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi encouraged students to avoid scrambling to make last-minute plans, urging those living in travel advisory states without an available quarantine solution to start the semester virtually from home.

“We don’t have expectations for you to find a hotel in Ithaca,” Lombardi said. “In fact, if you don’t have some type of situation that’s readily available with family members or some other kind of situation, we’d really just encourage you to stay at your permanent residence until your state is lifted from the New York State travel advisory.”

Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi

Lombardi said the mounting list of travel advisory states forced Cornell to make Thursday’s “excruciating decision.”

New York’s travel advisory listed 16 states in early July after Cornell announced its reopening plan, Lombardi said. But within the month, that list swelled to 34 states, including Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

The longer list impacts approximately 5,000 undergraduate students — a number that made accommodating everyone living on campus untenable, Lombardi said. As the list expanded, Cornell looked to quarantine students in hotels more than an hour away from campus, which would have required busing droves of students back to Ithaca.

“As those numbers grew, the complexity of trying to find accommodations and space for that quarantine became increasingly difficult,” Lombardi said. “That ultimately didn’t feel like to us, with all the transportation challenges, the best way to start a Cornell experience.”

Before deciding to completely scrap plans for on-campus quarantining, Cornell tried to negotiate with New York State to shorten the 14-day quarantine, but these efforts were unsuccessful, according to Lombardi.

Cornell also won’t monitor off-campus students quarantining, said Pat Wynn, Assistant Vice President for Student and Campus Life. But New York State guidelines mandate students from states on its advisory to quarantine for 14 days and fill out a travel health form upon arrival.

Assistant Vice President for Student and Campus Life Pat Wynn

Courtesy of Cornell University

Assistant Vice President for Student and Campus Life Pat Wynn

Otherwise, students who fail to follow these guidelines can face a $2,000 fine. Cornell has not outlined any consequences for failing to comply with the travel advisory.

“We very much regret these are the circumstances by which we’re starting this semester,” Lombardi said. “Please hear me loud and clear: If there was anything I could do about that, I would do it … We will support you in every way that we can.”

Here’s how Cornell’s decision impacts everyone — from students already in New York to international students:

Move-in and storage
The University plans to announce move-in slots around Aug. 7. Students may request to change their move-in slot through the housing portal to accommodate their travel plans, Lombardi said.

Karen Brown, director of marketing and communications for Student and Campus Life, reiterated that students returning to campus during their assigned move-in slot should pack lightly and ship the rest, sticking to what they can carry — the equivalent of two suitcases and a backpack. (Students may bring a bicycle, too.)

Cornell will uphold this policy because of both quarantine and no-guest guidelines during move-in, Brown said. Students living on campus will quarantine until they receive their test results, and should pack what they need for that period — about two days, or if they test positive, two weeks.

Once students meet quarantine and testing requirements, they can enter other residence halls on campus, Wynn said.

Students pick up cardboard boxes at RPCC on March 15, 2020.

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Students pick up cardboard boxes at RPCC on March 15, 2020.

Brown also outlined shipping and storage policies for new and returning students:

  • Students living on campus who ship their belongings through Big Red Shipping and Storage will find them in their dorms when they move in.
  • Returning students who stored their belongings with Storage Squad this spring and now live off campus can arrange a time to retrieve their items.
  • Returning students who stored their belongings with Storage Squad this spring and study at home this fall can pay to store them until the spring or ship them home.
  • Students won’t be able to access items sent to residence hall service centers until after the initial quarantine period.
  • After students meet quarantine and testing requirements, parents may drop off additional belongings.

Brown also confirmed that Cornell reversed a plan to provide mini fridges for every on-campus dorm, intended to accommodate dining hall takeout. Due to a nationwide shortage of microfridges, the University is now considering other refrigeration options for students.

A student rolls a cart across West Campus on March 16, 2020.

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

A student rolls a cart across West Campus on March 16, 2020.

Housing contract
Brown said students who stay home during the fall semester and return in the spring must cancel their housing contract and reapply for spring housing:

  • Students who cancel their fall housing will see an adjusted housing rate and should contact the housing office at housing@cornell.edu by Aug. 31.
  • Students living in doubles should expect to live with another student if their original roommate decides to stay home.

Students living on campus
Wynn said students arriving from states on New York’s travel advisory should do the following:

  • Quarantine for 14 days either in New York or a state not listed in the advisory before coming to campus. Students can quarantine with friends or family, Wynn said.
  • If students are unable to do so, then they should expect to start the semester online. Cornell will allow students to return to campus once their state is removed from New York’s travel advisory.

Students can request exceptions to quarantine on campus, Wynn added, but did not specify Cornell’s criteria for these exceptions or its on-campus quarantining capacity.

Cornell Housing will send more information on this process within the next week; the deadline to apply for an on-campus accommodation is Aug. 5. The University will then release decisions by Aug. 10.

The rules for students coming to Ithaca from a state not on New York’s advisory list are still largely the same. These students should do the following:

  • Quarantine for 14 days prior to arrival on campus.
  • Try to get a COVID-19 test before leaving for Ithaca; only return if the test is negative.
  • Arrive to campus on an assigned move-in time and date. Cornell expects to release these times around Aug. 7.
  • Prepare for a staggered move-in process set to begin Aug. 23 and end Aug. 31.

Because New York’s quarantine list continues to change, Cornell recommends that students from states not listed to closely monitor the advisory. If a student’s state is added to the list in the coming weeks, then they should stay home until their state is removed from the list, Wynn said.

Students living on campus do not need to schedule a COVID-19 arrival test — Cornell will handle the logistics and test these students immediately once they arrive.

Students living off campus
For students living off campus — whether or not they are coming from a quarantine state — the move-in process is largely unregulated.

Students living off campus should:

  • Quarantine for 14 days prior to arrival.
  • Get tested for COVID-19 before setting out for Ithaca.
  • Depending on the state or country a student is coming from, they may need to quarantine for 14 days once they arrive.
  • Complete New York State’s traveler health form.
  • Schedule an arrival COVID-19 test through the Re-entry Checklist.

International students
International students have to follow a similar set of guidelines:

  • Quarantine in New York or any other state not in the travel advisory for 14 days before returning to campus.
  • Obtain a COVID-19 test before arriving to campus and only return if the test is negative.
  • If Cornell approves an exception to quarantine on campus, then international students should arrive to Ithaca by Aug. 17.
Students line up to buy cardboard boxes at the UPS store in Collegetown after President Martha E. Pollack announced that the University would suspend all classes as of 5 p.m. on March 13, 2020.

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Students line up to buy cardboard boxes at the UPS store in Collegetown after President Martha E. Pollack announced that the University would suspend all classes as of 5 p.m. on March 13, 2020.

Testing positive
Same-day testing for on-campus students has, in part, made Cornell’s reopening plans more complicated, delaying move-in information for students, Lombardi said.

“It’s not just as simple as saying, ‘Here’s when you move in,’” Lombardi said. “We actually have to coordinate to coordinate the testing site … which is why it is taking longer than normally it would to provide you that move-in information.”

Cornell will only use hotel rooms to quarantine students overnight as they await testing results, Wynn said. Students scheduled to move in Aug. 25 through Aug. 31 will be the only subset to quarantine in these hotels — Cornell will cover the expenses and release hotel assignments prior to arrival.

Students arriving Aug. 23 and Aug. 24 will quarantine overnight in a designated on-campus dorm.

If a student living on campus tests positive for COVID-19 when they arrive, Wynn said they will need to isolate for 14 days. The University will arrange rooms in residence halls and hotel rooms for isolation. In a previous town hall, Wynn said these rooms will include one bedroom, a private bathroom and a kitchen. Cornell will also provide boxed meals to these students.

During the two-week isolation, Cornell Health will regularly monitor the students and be in touch with nearby hospitals to identify any conditions that may require hospitalization.

The Tompkins County Health Department will advise off-campus students if they test positive for COVID-19.

Student leave the Cornell Store wearing masks on March 13, 2020.

Hannah Rosenberg / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Student leave the Cornell Store wearing masks on March 13, 2020.

Campus support
Cornell is creating an emergency fund to meet students’ coronavirus-related costs, especially after Thursday’s change of course, Lombardi said. The University will release information on how students can apply for resources.

“I do appreciate and understand that this creates a hardship for some of you. Not everybody obviously has the same means, and Cornell prides itself on supporting students of all socioeconomic backgrounds,” Lombardi said. “We want to make sure that this doesn’t create a situation that is excessive hardship to you and your family.”

Lombardi ended the town hall by encouraging families to make the decision that’s best for them, reassuring students that it’s OK to start the semester from home.

“I encourage you, in the strongest terms possible, to make this your decision. It needs to be what’s right for you,” Lombardi said. “I know that we’re comparing our friends, our peers. It’s just not helpful to do that to yourself and every person is in a different circumstance.”