December 14, 2021

Cornell Shuts Down Campus Facilities, Moves Finals Online

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As active student cases have reached 469, Cornell is shutting down campus 21 months after March 2020, leaving students to scramble in the middle of finals week.  

All finals are being moved online as of noon, as the University moves to alert level red — indicating high risk — for the first time, wrote President Martha Pollack in an email to the campus community Tuesday morning.

For finals, Pollack wrote that the ones already moved online will continue as normal, and students should look to their professors as they make changes, as many may need to reschedule to accommodate the shift. Updates will also be posted to the academic policies section of the COVID-19 website.

According to the fall final exam schedule, there were exams scheduled on Tuesday at 9 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. — the exams after noon have to adjust to be online. Exams scheduled for the 2 p.m. timeslot right after the announcement include some of the larger introductory courses on campus: Computer Science 2110: Object-Oriented Programming and Data Structures, Economics 1120: Introductory Macroeconomics, Mathematics 2310: Linear Algebra with Applications and Statistical Sciences 2200: Biological Statistics I.

Because of the move to the red alert, Cornell is also canceling is December graduation ceremony, originally planned for Saturday.     

The email also states that libraries, fitness centers and gyms are closed to students, and those who eat at Cornell Dining eateries are encouraged to take it to go. 

The alert level does not necessarily mean students should rush home — instead, Cornell advises that students obtain a negative COVID-19 test result before any travel. 

“Students who have tested negative within the past 48 hours and wish to leave campus are welcome to do so,” Pollack wrote.

However, if students have not received a negative test in the past 48 hours, they should schedule a supplemental test as soon as possible and stay in Ithaca until receiving the results.

Over the past week, Cornell has had over 600 cases and as of Tuesday has over 450 active cases among its student body, according to the COVID-19 dashboard. The dashboard has not updated since Monday evening, though, and as of Tuesday morning, was not loading as people swamped the website. 

The worsening situation at Cornell has made up the bulk of the cases in Tompkins County, and as of Tuesday morning, the county had 886 active cases, 10 hospitalizations and four new deaths. 

According to the Tuesday morning email, “just last evening our COVID-19 testing lab team identified evidence of the highly contagious Omicron variant in a significant number of Monday’s positive student samples.” 

“​​While there is still much that is not known about the Omicron variant, it appears to be significantly more transmissible than Delta and other variants,” Pollack continued. “Thus, we need to do what we can to limit further spread, even though we are just a few days away from the end of the semester. That is why we are moving to Alert Level Red.”

Although Cornell has flickered between green and yellow alerts since the fall 2020 semester, indicating the prevalence of the virus on campus, the University has never changed to the red alert in the past three semesters.

There are no concrete metrics dictating when the University would move to the red alert level, but the past week has shattered previous pandemic records for case counts.

“It is obviously extremely dispiriting to have to take these steps. However, since the start of the pandemic, our commitment has been to follow the science and do all we can to protect the health of our faculty, staff, and students,” Pollack wrote. “We have faced many challenges together over the last many months. I am confident that we can once again rise to meet this current challenge so we can all take a well-deserved break.”

Students in need of professional mental health support can call Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at 607-255-5155 and employees can call the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) at 607-255-2673. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all CAPS and FSAP services are currently being delivered via telehealth. Whenever these services are closed, calls are answered by Cornell Health’s on-call mental health provider. The Ithaca-based Crisisline is also available at 607-272-1616. A wide range of supportive resources is also available at

This story has been updated.