Julia Nagel/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Students walking on the Arts Quad on Sept. 15, during Cornell's longest period at a raised COVID alert level.

September 24, 2021

Cornell Returns to Green Alert Following Month of Record Case Counts

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After nearly a month in the yellow alert level, marked by record-high campus case counts, Cornell has returned to alert green. 

“This change reflects improved surveillance testing results and the relatively low number of current cases of COVID-19, and it is a testament to our community’s collective adherence to science-based campus health requirements,” wrote Provost Michael Kotlikoff, Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi and Vice President Mary Opperman in a Friday email to the campus community. 

Under alert level green, indoor mask requirements will remain in place for faculty, staff and students, as well as the updated Daily Check requirements for faculty and staff. Surveillance testing for undergraduate and professional students will also continue.

Ultimately, there are no significant changes to on-campus policy, though guidance for other activities and varsity athletics are forthcoming. 

This change to alert level comes after homecoming weekend and the commencement ceremony for the Class of 2020, when thousands of visitors descended on campus. Even though the laser show and fireworks were canceled out of an “abundance of caution,” over 12,000 people attended the football game — the first in over 600 days. 

Cases on campus for the past week have been decreasing, though, with the University reporting 26 current active student cases as of Wednesday, with 78 total new positives between Sept. 10 and Sept. 16. 

The latest shift follows the trend of the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021, when cases increased sharply as students traveled from across the globe to campus and reunited with friends before falling as the semester went on.

Despite the introduction of vaccines for COVID-19 — with 96 percent of the campus vaccinated — the fall 2021 semester saw the largest influx of cases as classes got under way. Cornell shattered its previous highest number of cases recorded in a single day on Aug. 24 — with 44 positives recorded that day — only to break that record the next day with another 57 cases. 

While recording record numbers of cases, Cornell’s testing did not keep pace with previous semesters because most undergraduates were only tested once a week — only members of Greek life and other student organizations are consistently tested twice a week. 

The steady decline in cases on campus in the past two weeks matches that of the local community. Tompkins County saw the most active cases of COVID-19 — 488 — since the start of the pandemic on Sept. 5, which has since fallen to 221 by Friday. Since the start of classes, from Aug. 26, members of the Cornell community made up just over half of all cases in the county. 

While cases decrease and restrictions loosen, Kotlikoff, Lombardi and Opperman stressed that following the guidelines are what have kept cases on campus relatively low overall.  

“Alert Level Green is not an invitation to take risks or grow complacent,” their email reads, “but rather, this ‘new normal’ status reminds us to preserve our low infection rate through a continued commitment to those actions that have been successful.”