Ben Parker/Sun Senior Editor

Cornell is planning for in-person classes this fall.

April 2, 2021

Cornell Plans for In-Person Fall, Expects to Require Vaccination

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Just days after Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) announced that everyone above the age of 16 will soon be eligible for the COVID vaccine, Cornell announced that students will be required to be vaccinated for the fall semester. 

In a Friday morning email sent to the Cornell community, President Martha Pollack and Provost Michael Kotlikoff wrote that widespread immunization among the student body would allow Cornell to resume in-person classes in the fall. 

“If the science indicates that the extent of immunity of our community provides for safe campus operation, and relevant regulations allow for in-person classroom instruction, classes normally taught in person will return to that mode of instruction, without any routinely scheduled online option,” the email read. 

Pollack and Kotlikoff encouraged students, faculty and staff to plan for in-person instruction in the fall, adding that the University is monitoring visa and international travel regulations to support international students. 

The nature of classrooms at the start of the semester will depend on vaccination levels within the Cornell community —  if nearly all of campus is vaccinated by the start of the semester, courses will begin with in-person instruction without regularly available online classes. Even in this scenario, virus precautions, including mask wearing, distanced seating arrangements and surveillance testing, will remain in place. 

“Once we have better data about the degree of community protection that has been achieved, we will offer additional details regarding full campus reactivation in a safe and responsible manner,” the email read. 

If less than 50 percent of the student body is vaccinated, the semester will begin with de-densified classrooms and hybrid instruction, similar to this spring. Once the University reaches herd immunity, all classes will transition to in-person instruction. 

Cornell will require students to register their vaccine status through the Daily Check as of April 15. The University will allow for medical and religious exemptions, but Cornell expects that most of campus will be vaccinated to reduce the risk of infection. 

The announcement comes a week after Rutgers University announced that it would require its students to be vaccinated to return to campus in the fall. 

Requiring COVID vaccines is currently a legal grey area, because the vaccines that are currently available have only been approved by emergency use authorization, which expedites the approval of medical devices but undergoes less rigorous testing before use.  

This question has never been tested in court, but the laws behind emergency use authorizations mention that there may be consequences to declining vaccines authorized in this way, according to Prof. Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, law, who studies the legal issues surrounding vaccines at the University of California Hastings College of Law. 

The email did not mention Cornell’s vaccination site, which New York State recently approved and could provide students with easier access to the vaccine if they have time constraints or lack access to transportation. 

The University will host a town hall on April 8, from noon to 1 p.m. to answer questions on the fall semester.