Residents in Cornell's eight University-owned co-op houses, like War Cooperative pictured above, have been creating their own COVID-19 safety measures through the pandemic.

September 21, 2021

Students in Cooperative Living Houses Design Individual COVID-19 Guidelines

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University-owned cooperative houses offer an alternative to dorm or apartment living, with students living self-sufficiently together for semesters after they join a co-op. But residents must navigate living safely in a shared space during a pandemic, without strict guidelines from Cornell.

Although co-ops are University-owned, members make their house rules independent of other houses and of the University itself. While Cornell can recommend COVID-19 safety measures for co-ops, they do not have the ability to enforce them. 

Throughout the pandemic, some co-ops have opted to require masks, ban guests or reduce the number of students living in the house. The University also determined that, similar to Greek life, the risk of virus transmission was greater in co-ops. All co-op members were tested three times a week last year, as compared to the current weekly testing requirement. 

Kendall Hoffman ’23, who lives in Triphammer Cooperative, said she shares her home with 17 other members. Even with high vaccination rates at Cornell, residents continue to wear masks in the house this semester. Members were allowed to bring guests over at the beginning of the semester — but  this stopped when the University moved to yellow alert in late August. 

Many students in Triphammer are opting to receive supplemental testing, according to Hoffman, meaning they’re being tested twice a week, beyond the weekly requirement. 

Hoffman described the importance of trust in living in a shared housing environment. 

“We were all pretty much able to trust each other to take the necessary measures to keep one another safe, which was pretty cool,” Hoffman said. 

Tucker Hwang ’22, president of Redbud Cooperative at Von Cramm Hall, said they only had one member test positive this academic year and did not have any cases last year. 

Students are required to wear masks in all common areas of the house, and the co-op has changed its meal plan enrollment to reduce virus transmission — limiting meals to students who are residents at the house. Previously, some students, including those in the neighboring 660 Stewart Avenue co-op, enrolled in the meal plan.  

Last academic year Von Cramm reduced the number of residents — but the co-op is back to full capacity, according to Hwang. 

“I used to live in a house with 35 people, and then I had to for a year and a half live with 20 people,” Hwang said. “Now we’re back to 35, so I could really feel that difference.”  

Although core aspects of living in Redbud, like the meal plan and its size, changed due to the pandemic, Hwang said socially distanced events and other adapted activities have brought the house together. 

“We had socially distanced social events and things that people could do online together that would act as a proxy for more of our in-person events,” Hwang explained.

Even with fewer in-person gatherings, the risk of transmission remains higher “in groups where members are likely to come in close contact with one another” — including in co-ops. 

Two members of 660 Stewart Avenue tested positive earlier this semester, and the house moved to require masks in common spaces. They were able to control the spread and prevent the other 22 live-in members from testing positive. Last year, only 16 people lived in the house, a reduction from the normal capacity. 

Marty Alani ’22, who lives at 660 Stewart Avenue, said even with the COVID risk of group housing, he’s grateful for the support system he formed within his co-op during the uncertainty of the pandemic. 

“It was really valuable for me all of last year to have this group living and this social environment in the house,” Alani said. “I think we were able to maintain that throughout the pandemic, which is really special.”