On its first day of finals, Cornell’s growing COVID spike worsened with the University identifying, but not yet reporting, nearly 300 new cases — including the introduction of the new Omicron variant.
Despite the steep increase in infections on campus, the University will proceed with in-person exams at 50 percent capacity, Provost Michael Kotlikoff and Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, said in an email to the Cornell community on Saturday.
“The number of new COVID-19 cases among the Cornell student body continues to climb at concerning rates. Testing from Friday and Saturday, which is still in the process of being finalized, has already identified nearly 300 additional student cases,” the email read.
While not yet recorded in the COVID-19 dashboard, identifying around 300 cases in two days — Friday and Saturday — almost triples the highest number of cases found in 48 hours. The previous record was 113 from Aug. 28 and Aug 29. The Tompkins County Health Department also said on Friday that because of the influx of positive cases, it would be delayed in contacting individuals that test positive and their close contacts.
“Due to the increased number of cases, the Health Department is not able to reach every case within 24 hours of tests resulting. You will be contacted, but until you are, please isolate at home and away from those in your home,” Frank Kruppa, Tompkins County public health director, said in a press release. As of the morning of Dec. 11, the county was reporting 466 active cases and 10 hospitalizations.
Part of the increase in cases is at least two cases of the Omicron variant — the health department reported two cases of the variant and Kotlikoff noted that it had been identified in the Cornell community.
The Omicron variant is the latest COVID variant of concern, which has rapidly spread globally since first being identified in South Africa. As it stands, there is much to learn about the variant, including exactly how quickly it spreads and how sick it will make people. While the Cornell community is 97 percent fully vaccinated, there are concerns that current vaccines will be somewhat less effective at fending off Omicron because of many mutations on the spike protein — which is what the body’s immune system latches on to.
“Being vaccinated, even with a booster shot, is not a license to let down our guards. Students testing positive for COVID-19 now, and in coming days, risk being required to isolate, away from family and friends, during the upcoming winter break,” Kotlikoff and Lombardi wrote in their email.