Julia Nagel/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

With Cornell COVID-19 cases on the rise again, Tompkins County cases are increasing.

March 19, 2021

Cornell Fuels Rise in Tompkins COVID Cases

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As students and professors wind down from Wellness Days, virus transmission on campus is shaping up to be different than the fall, with increased on-campus transmission. 

In the past two weeks, cases have started to tick up again after they slid in February, with 59 new cases from March 10 to March 16. Earlier this semester, cases on campus and in Tompkins County climbed as students returned to Ithaca from across the globe in January, and local residents concluded holiday festivities. After quarantining and isolating, student cases gradually decreased throughout February. 

“If you look at the county numbers and look at the Cornell tracker, you can see what’s driving up the county numbers,” said Frank Kruppa, Tompkins County public health director.

According to Kruppa, case counts in Tompkins County largely reflect the increase in COVID cases at Cornell. Kruppa said he thinks students have become weary of following social distancing measures.

“I think a lot of it is fatigue. Many of the students went through the fall semester with all of the restrictions that were in place, and then maybe they went home to a state that didn’t have the same level of restrictions that we have here,” Kruppa said. “I can understand why people are getting tired and maybe aren’t being as vigilant about following the guidance.”

The fall semester saw fewer COVID cases than anticipated by the reopening models that Prof. Peter Frazier, operations research and information engineering, predicted with his team. In an updated model for the spring semester, Frazier predicted Cornell would report more cases on campus as a result of new variants, COVID fatigue and a higher prevalence of the virus in the surrounding community. 

The modeling for the spring semester anticipated about 1.5 times the number of fall cases. As of Tuesday, the spring semester saw 189 cases since the start of classes. In the fall, Cornell reported 102 cases in the same period. This comparison also does not include the 270 cases Cornell reported in 2021 before the start of classes. 

Unlike the fall when the University saw minimal virus transmission in dorms, Cornell is reporting new cases daily among students living on campus. 

President Pollack announced in a Tuesday email that some student populations on campus may be tested more frequently. The University is rolling out an extra day of weekly testing to students living on North Campus, where Cornell is seeing additional cases, top administrators Pat Wynn and Anne Jones emailed residents Wednesday.

“Recent enhancements to the surveillance testing process at Cornell have provided us with an opportunity to boost the weekly testing capacity for a subset of the student population,” Wynn and Jones wrote. “We will use this extra capacity to increase the surveillance testing frequency for students who, by nature of their shared living arrangements or affiliations, have a potential for exposure to a high number of close contacts.”