Julia Nagel / Sun Staff Photographer

Students passing by Lyon Hall towards Gothics Way, with COVID-related signage in the foreground, on Oct. 17

November 13, 2020

Cornell Moves to Yellow Alert Level As Cases Spike

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This story has been updated.

On the last day of in-person classes for the semester, Cornell’s COVID-19 success story began to unravel as a major spike in cases forced the campus to move to yellow alert.

A Cornell alert sent out after 3 p.m. Friday indicated that campus would tick up to yellow, the second-lowest “low to moderate risk” alert level. 

The University released new COVID-19 case numbers dating to Nov. 12 on its dashboard Friday evening, reporting 14 new cases on Nov. 12, for a total of 27 on campus positive cases. 

The Tompkins County Health Department reported 23 new cases Friday afternoon. On Thursday, the Health Department reported its highest number of COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, with 30 new cases. There are 117 active cases in the area.

In a Friday email to the Cornell community, Provost Michael Kotlikoff and Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi wrote that additional cases connected to Thursday’s cluster had been identified, and that the move to yellow alert was “a precautionary measure.”

Lombardi, in a Thursday email, identified one cluster in Cornell’s Greek community. The Tompkins County Health Department noted that college students who visited “multiple gatherings with different people at each gathering” had caused a cluster of over 10 positive cases to date. The University declined to comment on what specific chapters had cases. 

In a Thursday release, the health department stated that another cluster emerged from a gathering at a single household. A smaller, four-case cluster resulted from a church group gathering.

The last time Cornell moved to yellow alert was in September, after a cluster emerged among student athletes. At that time, there were 61 cases in Tompkins County. 

While campus is at yellow alert, the only change the University will implement is the addition of adaptive testing, which targets select groups with more frequent tests. Campus gatherings have been capped at 10 all semester, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) banned all private gatherings of that size as well. 

With the end of in-person classes Friday and start of the semifinals period, many students had prepared to depart campus as early as this weekend. In their Friday email, Kotlikoff and Lombardi reminded students in quarantine that they may not leave their quarantine location. 

“[A]ny student in quarantine or isolation is prohibited from leaving their place of quarantine without permission from the health department,” the two wrote. 

As of Friday, the University’s COVID-19 dashboard shows available quarantine capacity at 93 percent.