Vaccination statistics were recently released on Cornell’s COVID-19 dashboard and the results are disappointing. As of yesterday, April 6, 16 percent of the on-campus population is fully vaccinated compared to the New York State average of 21.2 percent. It isn’t hard to see why: it’s almost impossible to get a vaccination within Ithaca, and impossible to do so on-campus.
As of yesterday, April 6, all on-campus Cornellians are eligible to get the vaccine in New York State. However, to do so they would need to travel to either a mass vaccination site in Cortland, Corning, Syracuse or Binghamton, or travel to the neighboring towns of Elmira or Oswego to get vaccinated at a pharmacy. Vaccinations are being administered at pharmacies in Ithaca, but as of today, these appointments are all booked.
Tompkins County only offers a bus service to Binghamton’s vaccination site. Further, even the transportation service provided is sparse, with only two round trip options per day. This requires interested students to either get a perfectly timed vaccine appointment or spend their entire day getting vaccinated. For busy students, especially students working on-campus, this may not be an option. Even before vaccines opened to the general public, eligible students were struggling with arranging transportation, and faced challenges getting an appointment in the first place. The Cornell subreddit is full of posts asking for transportation assistance — clearly Cornell is not meeting this need.
Vaccines are safe and effective measures for preventing disease, and some are 100 percent effective against severe disease. New research is coming out demonstrating that vaccines are effective against transmission as well. It is clear that the only way to achieve normalcy is if a majority of Cornellians receive vaccines — students, staff and faculty alike. Cornell is even planning to make vaccines mandatory for attendance in the fall. At the moment, however, Cornell is making no effort to facilitate vaccinations at the many mass vaccination centers near our campus, forcing students to fend for themselves to arrange for transportation. Cornell has applied to be a point of distribution for the vaccine, but has shared no timeline on this effort and no data on how much vaccination can take place at Cornell. In the meantime, if Cornell prioritizes ending this pandemic, then it should not only offer, but encourage transportation to the Syracuse, Binghamton Corning, and Cortland mass vaccination sites.
Cornell has received deserving praise for spearheading a regular testing program on campus — reopening this year would not have been possible without it. This system worked spectacularly in the fall, but the levels of COVID-19 in Tompkins County, New York State and on the Cornell campus have been higher this spring. The testing system has managed to catch clusters before they exploded into outbreaks, but Cornell has started to test the limits of the system. At the beginning of this semester, Cornell was forced to isolate students in nearby hotels as The Statler Hotel filled up.
While this system has shown to be very effective, it can only go so far. Lately, we have had a couple weeks of weekly caseloads above 80 cases, and several days with higher than 15 new cases. Several clusters have been reported in Greek Life, freshman housing facilities and among MBA students. As experts warn of an impending 4th wave, it’s clear that mass vaccination is critically important.
Currently, there are thousands of open appointments available as soon as today for nearby vaccinations. Every appointment that goes unfilled is a Cornellian that could have been vaccinated but instead isn’t. Cornell students were asked to sign a behavioral compact. In exchange, the student body expects Cornell to use all of the resources at its disposal to create a safe and fulfilling experience on campus. Cornell should make it a priority to transport students to nearby vaccination sites and make sure no appointment is left open. If Cornell makes vaccination a priority, it is possible that by the end of the semester, we reach vaccination levels high enough for the Cornell community to reach herd immunity. Combined with a low number of COVID cases, enforced through regular testing, Cornell has the potential to create a practically pandemic-free bubble.
If, however, Cornell continues to suffer from high caseloads now that vaccine appointments are open for all Cornellians, Cornell can no longer just blame students for behavioral violations. Cornell must also blame itself for failing to vaccinate its students and faculty.
Ahad Rizvi is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Guest Rooms runs periodically throughout the semester.