Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Cornell Health in March, following the announcement that the University would transition to virtual learning for the remainder of the semester.

August 20, 2020

What To Expect From Cornell’s COVID-19 Testing Experience

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The Cornell program has three core components — arrival testing, surveillance testing and testing with cause. Should someone test positive, they will be informed of their COVID-19 status and isolated from the general population.

Someone’s COVID-19 status will remain private from everyone except for Cornell Health unless the individual allows it to be shared. Tompkins County Health Department will inform all those who may have been in contact with the infected person so that they can quarantine. Cornell Health will coordinate with Cayuga Medical Center to support the health needs of COVID-19 positive students in isolation.

Arrival Testing

Students will first be tested for COVID-19 within a few days of arrival on campus. Before they receive results, on-campus residents are expected to quarantine in their dorm rooms and leave only to use the bathroom and to pick up their meals at an outdoor tent. Off-campus residents are also advised to quarantine until they get test results back.

Arrival testing sites include the Fischell Band Center, Robert Purcell Community Center and the Livestock Pavilion at 48 Judd Falls Road. Arrival tests are completed using nasopharyngeal swabs.

The testing site at Fischell Band Center, on Aug. 12.

Anil Oza / Sun Science Editor

The testing site at Fischell Band Center, on Aug. 12.

Lola Adepoju ’22 scheduled her arrival test through Cornell’s Re-entry Checklist. She selected the soonest testing date, Aug. 18, that was available after her arrival on Aug. 14. Adepoju waited in a long line of students outside the Fischell Band Center testing site for around half an hour before she could enter the facility, although inside for just five minutes.

“With the line, people weren’t distanced far enough from each other,” Adepoju said. “Especially when I got toward the entrance of the band center, people were like one feet apart from each other.”

Adepoju noted that although the test was uncomfortable, her pain quickly dissipated.

Brochures available at check-in provided instructions on how to access test results by setting up a Cayuga Health patient portal account. But Adepoju’s login attempt was unsuccessful — she had to call Cayuga Health to receive her results, which were available one day after her test.

Pamphlets provided to students to access results for the COVID-19 arrival tests.

Anil Oza / Sun Science Editor

Pamphlets provided to students to access results for the COVID-19 arrival tests.

According to an email from Gary Koretzky, vice provost for academic integration, an influx of walk-ins on Tuesday caused long lines at the Fischell Band Center. However, the site added another testing station the same day, reducing waiting times and returning the center to normal.

Koretzky explained that without the delays of walk-ins, the testing line normally takes 15 to 20 minutes. Testing capacity will be further increased by Aug. 21, Koretzky said.

Those looking to make a testing appointment should note that testing appointments for each week are released on Mondays at noon.


Surveillance Testing

Surveillance tests are done with a self-inserted nasal swab under the observation of a trained technician, which is not inserted as far up the nose as a nasopharyngeal swab. The cost of surveillance testing will be covered by the University and remains free for students and employees.

According to Koretzky, the Fischell Band Center will be converted into a surveillance testing center in September. Additional surveillance testing locations will include Robert Purcell Community Center, Willard Straight Hall, Collegetown Terrace, Livestock Pavilion, ILR Conference Center, King Shaw Hall and the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Although undergraduate students will be tested twice per week, graduate research degree students, professional degree students, faculty and staff will be tested once per week. Surveillance testing starts on Sept. 2.


Testing With Cause

If students have symptoms of COVID-19, or are exposed to someone with COVID-19, they are advised to call Cornell Health in order to get diagnostic testing. Students are asked to call for a telehealth screening visit before they come to the testing clinic for their appointment.

While they cannot be tested by Cornell Health, Cornell employees will still not have to pay for diagnostic testing as long as they are insured. According to Koretzky, diagnostic tests are fully covered by all insurance plans with no out of pocket costs. Koretzky recommends that employees seek testing at the Cayuga Medical Center testing site at Ithaca Mall in case of exposure or symptoms.


Who Will Know Student Test Results / Contact Tracing

Students who test positive for COVID-19 are contacted by TCHD, and Cornell Health is also informed. All other parties are only told with students’ consent.

“No other individuals – other healthcare systems, family members, roommates, supervisors, professors, or University administrators – are informed of individuals’ test results without the student’s permission,” said Anne Jones, medical director for Cornell Health. “Cornell Health is not involved in any disciplinary processes.”

According to Frank Kruppa, Tompkins County Public Health Director, TCHD’s contact tracers will interview those who test positive for COVID-19 to determine healthcare needs, as well as their contacts during their infectious period. This infectious period is 48 hours before symptom onset, or 48 hours before a positive test result for someone who is asymptomatic.

During this investigation, the contact tracers will contact people who might have been exposed to COVID-19 due to prolonged exposure with the individual who tested positive. This prolonged exposure is defined by 10 or more minutes of interaction within 6 feet of the individual, Kruppa said.

Signs around campus urge students to adhere to social distancing and other public health measures.

Anil Oza / Sun Science Editor

Signs around campus urge students to adhere to social distancing and other public health measures.

In instances in which individuals do not remember who they interacted with, contact tracers can speak with business operators to identify everyone who was potentially exposed, or do a public release if all close contacts cannot be determined.

According to Kruppa, all individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 will isolate and receive a daily video call from TCHD staff.

“We set up a system so we can…check in to make sure that their health is okay…and then help them with any challenges that they might have related to isolation,” Kruppa said.

Contacts of those who tested positive are placed into quarantine. It is unclear if they would be moved from their living facility. They are monitored by TCHD through a daily telephone call and text message. This communication can evaluate individuals’ possible symptoms and provide general support, Kruppa said.

Cornell Health is also working with TCHD to assist with contact tracing on the Cornell campus, and provide daily check-ins for students in quarantine.

Kruppa said that TCHD is leading the contact tracing effort because the health department specifically has the legal responsibility and jurisdiction to isolate and quarantine individuals. Those who are contacted might also feel more comfortable answering questions truthfully to TCHD officials than to Cornell staff.


In the case that students test positive for COVID-19 and the health department deems their living conditions unsuitable for isolation, they will be isolated separate from the rest of the student population.

“We have also secured the space and put in place the infrastructure to safely isolate and support all of our infected students,” Koretzky wrote.

According to an anonymous source, one of these spaces is Schuyler House, an off-campus dorm that normally houses 125 people — although capacity will be lower for isolation purposes because all rooms will have to be singles. Schuyler has been closed to its usual occupants.

According to Jones, students are assigned Cornell Health primary care providers who will collaborate with other Cornell Health staff and university crisis managers to ensure that student needs are met. In the case of serious infection, students may be treated at Cayuga Medical Center.

Cornell Health leadership recognizes the effect isolation can have on student mental health, and is providing services that include virtual drop-in consultations, 24/7 phone consultation, virtual therapy and a collection of COVID-19 resources.

Meghna Maharishi ’22 contributed reporting.