Michelle Zhiqing Yang / Sun Staff Photographer

Students line up at Robert Purcell Community Center on North Campus for COVID-19 testing on September 3 — the first day of surveillance testing.

February 10, 2021

Cornell to Use Testing Data for COVID-19 Research

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Since the beginning of the pandemic, Cornell has donated medical supplies, converted its College of Veterinary Medicine into a COVID-19 testing lab, and provided testing to public schools. Now, it’s asking the Cornell community to contribute their own nasal swabs to the cause.  

The Feb. 4 University announcement explained that students, staff and faculty would now have the option to consent to give their data and testing samples for COVID research. Cornell faculty will now have a ready supply of samples to study transmission, immune responses and antibodies, among other aspects of the virus, according to Provost Michael Kotlikoff and Emmanuel P. Giannelis, vice president for research and innovation.

Shortly after, students were able to fill out a consent form through the Daily Check — a questionnaire intended to monitor students’ daily exposure and symptoms. Members of the Cornell community have the right to change their answers in the Daily Check at any time. 

Cornell joins other universities like the University of North Carolina, the Rochester Institute of Technology and Duke University in using student testing as a resource for further understanding the virus. Some institutions used the opportunity to explore different testing methods, such as examining campus wastewater for the presence of the virus. 

Duke runs a similar surveillance program to Cornell, where students self-administer nasal swabs. Last fall, through testing student samples collected last fall, researchers were able to prove the efficacy of pooled testing, where several COVID test samples are collected and analyzed together. 

“Many members of our community have also expressed the desire to participate in investigative work so they can make a contribution to the generation of this new knowledge,” Gary Koretzky ’78, vice provost for academic integration, wrote in a statement to The Sun. Koretzky is one of the faculty members directly involved in the studies.

The large volume of samples from the community will allow researchers to learn more about various aspects of COVID-19, ranging from antibodies to transmission. “Some [studies] might teach us about the fundamental virology of SARS-CoV-2 while others might inform us about how individuals respond when infected,” Koretzky wrote.

The research could illuminate the effectiveness of the University’s COVID response, according to Koretzky. “Studies may help us appreciate things that Cornell did well in its response to COVID,” he wrote, “or things we might have done differently.”