Andrew Cuomo during a briefing in May.

Stefani Reynolds / The New York Times

Andrew Cuomo during a briefing in May.

August 27, 2020

Contradicting Cornell, Cuomo Says NYS Colleges Should Close If COVID-19 Cases Reach 100 in 1 Week

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Cornell recently committed to considering a shutdown if campus reached 250 cases in a week, but a recent decision by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) may not make that feasible.

On Thursday, Cuomo announced that colleges in New York State would have to move to remote learning for two weeks if there are 100 cases or a number of cases equal to 5 percent of the population.

“We’re seeing around the country, situations where colleges reopened and then have an outbreak of cases,” Cuomo said. “We are going to set a threshold that says if a college has 100 cases, or a number of cases equal to 5 percent of their population or more, whichever is less, they must go to remote learning for two weeks.”

Several schools, including University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and University of Notre Dame, that have attempted reopening for the fall semester have already seen COVID-19 outbreaks, forcing them to alter their plans. UNC reverted to an entirely virtual semester while Notre Dame transitioned to remote learning for two weeks.

Cuomo’s plan mirrors that of Notre Dame — should there be an outbreak, schools will transition to remote learning for two weeks before reassessing the situation.

Given Cornell’s campus population of 34,310 as of 2019 — 5 percent would be 1,715 — so Cornell’s threshold for closure would be 100 cases of COVID-19 under Cuomo’s guidelines.

Cornell had committed to considering a shutdown if there were 250 confirmed cases on campus within a seven day period. This figure would signal a transition from a best case scenario to a nominal scenario.

Some have claimed the figure is too high, but Provost Michael Kotlikoff drew a distinction between case numbers in asymptomatic screening versus testing for a cause — which is the predominant method of testing.

“When we talk about numbers of 250 in a week, that sounds enormously large, but remember we’re going to be testing every single student multiple times a week,” said Kotlikoff in an interview with the Sun. “We hope to catch almost every case, all these cases that would otherwise have been missed. It’s a little bit apples and oranges, to compare our numbers to the numbers you often see in the press and I don’t think people have quite understood that so I wanted to stress that.

Syracuse University also committed to a higher threshold for a campus closure in late July, stating that 200 active COVID-19 cases would lead to a campus shutdown.

Since Aug. 18, Cornell has only reported three cases of COVID-19, detected through its gateway testing for students.

“Cornell is committed to the healthy and safe reactivation of our campus, and our robust testing program has the ability to process up to 50,000 samples each week,” John Carberry, a University spokesperson, said in a statement to The Sun. “As we carefully track our ongoing monitoring of students, faculty and staff, we will continue to work in close consultation with Tompkins County Health Department and in strict accordance with all New York state guidelines.”