August 20, 2020

GUEST ROOM | It’s Time for Pollack to Step Down

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Absent in President Pollack’s public statement on reopening Cornell’s campus was the mention of aerosol transmission or the use of N95 masks on campus. It is also absent in Cornell’s real-time strategy as we see R.A.s tweeting pictures showing them wearing their own protective gear they have acquired themselves. Those R.A.s are Cornell workers and someone’s children, and they look exhausted and terrified in their Tweets brandishing KN95s that they spent their own money on. With rampant forgeries and KN95s not passing NIOSH certification standards, we cannot be sure that they are protected. They are in danger of exposure from students arriving from a plethora of hotspots and not all of whom were able to get tested immediately on arrival. The R.A.s don’t think they can do this for a whole semester. They believe it will be impossible to try and reel in students who have their own attitudes towards the virus and are not complying to rules they deem vague and not important.

There is no argument for dorms in North or West Campus to be open during a pandemic. The virus spreads by aerosol transmission. By keeping two students to a room, which is exactly how it was before the pandemic, it means 8 students for a bathroom where they share two stalls and one shower all in the same small enclosed space. Fecal-oral transmission is common for coronaviruses making dorm and shared bathrooms dangerous super-spreading hotspots.

There is no way to guarantee a safe home for any student resident during the pandemic. Parents keep your child at home this semester, go virtual or continue after the vaccine. Don’t risk your child’s life. Every day is a 24 hour window for your child to get infected. Studies show COVID-19 aerosols can travel indoors up to 16 feet. Students will not be protected in classrooms, or in bathrooms, or when they casually speak with one another on campus. If Cornell does not have enough masks for a few RAs in these first few days it is a telling sign that they are ill equipped and have no plan to furnish workers or students with real N95 respiratory protection at any moment during the pandemic.

The plan should be to de-densify Ithaca as much as possible and ask students to remain safely at home with their families. We need leadership that can champion online learning and promote quarantining at home until the vaccine is ready. This semester is about family and care for our lives, this is not a semester to treasure. It is a semester to be cautious, to quarantine and to survive. Cornell should be thinking of the families of students and how to help them during this crisis. Students staying at home keeps them safe and it also allows families to pool in resources all in one place so everyone can survive the virus and the economic pandemic.

Following or believing in models made months ago is dangerous when there are countless recent examples that show that you can’t contain the virus even with aggressive testing. It is time for Pollack to step down and Deans should nominate a COVID-19 leadership team to take over and close the campus and transition to a fully online semester. The brave student R.A. speaking out on Twitter is ringing alarm bells about a tragedy currently unfolding. UNC quickly shut down and is planning to empty out their dorms after only one week they saw 130 cases, when will we draw the line? After 100 are infected at Cornell?


Vicente Gonzalez ’11 is a former Sun columnist. Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Guest Room runs periodically this summer.