On a day when Tompkins County’s new COVID-19 cases spiked to their highest point since the pandemic began, President Martha E. Pollack said that the number of positives needed for Cornell to halt in-person operations is getting smaller.
In an email sent to the Cornell community on Wednesday night, Pollack explained the implications of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D-N.Y.) order requiring colleges with more than 100 new cases reported in a single week to temporarily halt in-person instruction.
Just hours later, the Tompkins County Department of Health announced that 18 more Cornell students had tested positive for the virus, bringing the last-week total to 42 cases.
The sharp uptick comes just as the University is set to roll out its surveillance testing today, an ambitious program that will dramatically increase the pace and scope of coronavirus monitoring. As Cornell inches closer to the threshold under which students would have to go online, Pollack cautioned that the increased testing means staying under 100 new weekly cases will become even more challenging.
“Staying below the new limit will be extremely difficult, and make no mistake: there is no guarantee of success,” the president wrote, striking a pessimistic note on the odds the University will be able to meet New York State’s new rules.
“We’re testing so many people, with the very goal of identifying all of the cases of the virus— even in asymptomatic people,” further explained Vice President for University Relations Joel Malina at a Wednesday Ithaca Common Council meeting. “So, with that approach we are going to have a higher number of cases than if we hadn’t done that. It means more than likely we will reach this threshold.”
If Cornell’s COVID-19 cases reach more than triple digits in a single week, campus life will have to become more socially-distant than it already is. It would not, however, end Cornell’s attempt to have an on-campus semester or fully shut operations down, according to President Martha E. Pollack.
Instead, in-person activities would have to be cut down even more for a period of 14 days.
“For a two-week period, all teaching moves online, dining halls move to take-out meals only and a variety of other campus activities are reduced or suspended,” Pollack wrote.
Students would not have to quarantine in their residences in this scenario, either. The president said that only those “who are in quarantine for cause” — meaning they have tested positive or were connected to someone who did — would have to isolate during this period.
Cuomo’s order came just days after Provost Michael Kotlikoff announced Cornell’s self-imposed guidelines, which suggested that the University could experience around 250 new weekly cases before being forced to reconsider its current plans.