Group homes, which include fraternities, sororities and co-ops, are having to face a tighter set of rules in response to Cornell's COVID-19 yellow alert.

Adrian Boteanu / Sun File Photo

Group homes, which include fraternities, sororities and co-ops, are having to face a tighter set of rules in response to Cornell's COVID-19 yellow alert.

September 9, 2020

Off-Campus Group Housing Adjusts to Yellow COVID-19 Alert Level

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What do you do when entering your own kitchen is considered a COVID-19 risk?

Group homes — which include Greek houses, co-ops and other communal buildings — are adapting to new regulations after the University shifted to a yellow alert level in response to a recent spike in COVID-19 infections.

As many of these residences house between 20 to 30 residents, eating, sharing living spaces and even bonding have been complicated by a new rule limiting gatherings of students to 10 people.

Skylar Lingo ’23, who lives in the Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority house, described the new reality of group living. Their dining room is reduced to ten chairs, alternating couch cushions are removed in the living room and sorority officers require all residents to wear masks when outside their rooms. No one can enter the house except for members and cleaning staff.

These measures are standard for many Greek houses this semester, according to Lingo.

Co-ops, both those on and off-campus, have likewise adopted new safety precautions adhering to the behavioral compact signed by students at the beginning of the year.

Lia Sokol ’23, a resident of 660 Stewart Avenue, explained the safety measures her co-op has taken.

“At the beginning of the semester, we got together and agreed upon a house compact, which we then modified once the campus went to ‘Yellow,’” Sokol said. Residents of 660 now wear masks within the house, sanitize their hands and door handles regularly, and record all external socialization.

Unlike in previous years, all of 660’s residents have single rooms. “A lot of the house didn’t come back. Usually there are 24 people, but this year there are 12,” Sokol said. This allows for more effective social distancing, but it reduces the size of the community significantly.

Another co-op, Cayuga Lodge, has addressed the pandemic in a slightly different way. Because it is student, rather than University, owned, they’re free to determine their own procedures on top of the behavioral compact.

According to resident Emma Eisler ’22, Cayuga Lodge members have weekly meetings where  they determine the best COVID-19 prevention protocols and “also check in on how everyone’s feeling.”

“We want to be able to function as a community, spend time together and enjoy being around each other as much as possible,” Eisler said.

Visitors to Cayuga Lodge are currently not allowed, and residents cannot visit other houses. They take special precautions outside the house, though they are not required to wear masks inside.

Eisler, who has lived in Lodge for the past year, noted how vital her housemates’ support had been for her mental health. She viewed the pandemic as a “shared experience” that brought her closer to her community this summer.

“It’s been a very good time for bonding,” Lingo agreed., “[even though] we can only hang out in smaller groups.” She missed the second half of last semester with her sorority sisters thanks to the abrupt campus closure, and she’s glad to be back with them now.

Sokol moved into her house this semester. She is looking forward to communal cooking in the house kitchen, though it now involves masks and extra sanitation.

“In spite of all the restrictions, which are obviously a necessity, everyone is so welcoming and friendly,“ Sokol said.