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Cornell has once again hit a yellow alert, ending its nearly six-week streak at "new normal" status.

March 19, 2021

Cornell Moves to Yellow Alert, Reports ‘Disturbing Increase’ in Cases

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Just days after announcing campus would relax restrictions on student organizations and intramural sports, Cornell is changing its tone — moving to yellow alert level as cases skyrocket on campus.

In the past week alone, Cornell has reported 74 new positive cases among students — mostly the result of those violating public health guidelines, President Martha Pollack wrote in a Friday morning email. Alert level yellow means the virus prevalence remains low, but indicates an increased risk of transmission. 

About half of these cases are tied to first-year students living on North Campus, Pollack wrote. Many of the cases are also linked to transmission from Greek life organizations, athletic teams, parties and travel outside of Ithaca.

“A disturbing increase in the number of COVID-19 cases within our student body has forced the university to move to COVID-19 Alert Level Yellow,” the email read. “Even more disturbing than the number of new cases is what is behind those numbers: a blatant disregard by some students for the public health requirements contained in the Behavioral Compact that each of you have agreed to uphold.”

Pollack wrote that some students have not been following the behavioral compact — missing their Daily Check and surveillance tests, and failing to comply with contact tracing. Individual students and student organizations are facing serious repercussions, Pollack wrote.

“Some students have either refused to comply with contact tracing or provided false information,” the email read. “These students may think they are protecting their friends by not identifying them as contacts, but they are, in fact, putting themselves and others at risk, including the most vulnerable among us.”

From March 15 to March 17 alone, the University recorded 38 case cases on campus, contributing to a 14-day total of 123 cases, according to the COVID-19 Dashboard. As of Friday, quarantine and isolation capacity is at 55 percent.

If these trends continue, the University would move to an orange alert level, Pollack wrote. This shift would prohibit all in-person gatherings — closing gyms and recreation centers, moving all classes online and requiring students to remain in their rooms or apartments except to get food or get tested. 

After that, Cornell would move to the red alert level, as “the only remaining recourse would be to send all students back to their permanent homes — an action that no one wants to see happen,” Pollack wrote.

This alert comes days after Cornell announced that some groups on campus would receive additional surveillance testing as the University reports new cases on campus daily. Cornell is also 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.

This is the second time Cornell has moved to the yellow alert this semester. Cornell slid to yellow in early February, prompted by a cluster linked to a crowded party in Collegetown.

Tompkins County has also reported an increase in cases in the past two weeks, but the spike is largely the result of cases in Cornell’s student body. From March 11 to March 17, Cornell accounted for nearly 60 percent of the cases in the county. 

“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.

During the fall semester, Cornell moved to its yellow alert level twice, at the beginning of the semester and in November. During both instances, cases decreased during the yellow period and campus returned to green.