Zoe Yang / Sun Staff Photographer

Students who leave campus and return are subject to quarantine rules according to Cornell's COVID-19 rules.

October 26, 2020

Cornell’s Return-to-Campus Policy Poses Concerns for COVID-19 Safety

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In what would otherwise be a common practice in a non-pandemic year, Cornell students now have to go through a new process to leave and return to campus this semester.

Students who leave campus to travel to a state on the New York State Travel Advisory List — which currently covers 39 states — are encouraged not to return to campus by Cornell, and instead remain at their permanent residence for the rest of the semester. Students who live in University housing that travel to a state not on the list must quarantine upon their return, and will be able to return to their Cornell residence after testing negative twice in a row.

Students returning from a travel-restricted state are told to find, and pay for, their own quarantine housing, as well as their food. Cornell mandates that students remain in their off-campus housing for 14 days, or until they’ve tested negative for COVID according to Cornell’s COVID19 website.

Cornell requires that students disclose the duration of their trip and destination through the Daily Check, according to Cornell’s COVID-19 website. It states that only exceptional situations — such as family emergencies — merit a departure from campus.

Joaquin Lopez May ’24 left campus for Philadelphia for a family emergency in mid-September and went through the return-to-campus process. Upon arriving back to campus, Lopez May was directed by Cornell Housing to Robert Purcell Community Center Service Center to get a key to his quarantine housing in Townhouse H on North Campus. He waited in line along with other students, despite the fact that had not yet received his COVID-19 test results.

“My quarantine was not enforced much, I was never checked on by any Cornell employee to make sure I was following the rules,” Lopez May said. “I feel like, had I wanted, I could have easily walked around campus.”

Lopez May also said that Cornell Housing took three days to respond to his emails asking about dining rules while he was in quarantine. He also said that Cornell Housing had planned to have another student stay in the same housing to quarantine.

“I emailed them about dining hall rules, and it took them concerningly long to answer, considering that I needed to eat,” he said. “They also assigned another student to quarantine in the same house as me, despite the fact that we both needed to isolate. He ended up not showing up, though.”

Lopez May stayed four days and three nights in quarantine, with his tests spaced one day apart. On the first day, he did not get tested and only isolated, but after testing negative twice, he was allowed to return to campus.

Neil Patel ’24 also traveled out of Ithaca, to Ellicott City, Maryland, in October to visit his family for a family emergency. Like Lopez May, Patel spent his quarantine period in Townhouse H.

“I didn’t actually [feel my quarantine was enforced],” Patel said. “I was just told to stay in the quarantine housing by Cornell Housing and no one checked on me. The only factor that kept me from living like normal was my need to isolate to not put other Cornellians at risk.”

Unlike arrival to campus, students are not provided with pre-packaged meals and are instead directed to dining halls, despite the uncertainty of their test results.

“I was expected to follow the same social distancing protocols as everyone else, but it wasn’t as if I received any special treatment or dealt with any additional guidelines,” Patel said.

Patel also said Cornell’s quarantine housing was poorly maintained, he explained that it “doesn’t seem to be visited by custodians” and that “hair was all over the floor and the bathroom, as a whole, was very dirty.” Its condition was so bad that he said he considered renting an Airbnb for the duration of his quarantine.