Michael Suguitan/Sun Staff Photographer

A sign posted on the Olin Library doors on Dec. 14 reads that the library is closed to students and visitors.

December 15, 2021

Your Fall 2021 Red Alert Questions, Answered

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On Dec. 14, Cornell raised its COVID-19 alert level from yellow to red in response to the biggest spike in student cases so far and evidence that the highly transmissible Omicron variant is spreading on campus. The administration moved the remainder of the final exam period online and told students they could leave with a negative test result within 48 hours.

With 1,172 positive COVID cases detected on campus this week as of Thursday, final exams shifting modality and winter break fast approaching, the situation on campus is rapidly evolving. Here’s what we know so far.

Red Alert | Campus COVID Cases | Campus Life | Final Exams | December Graduation | Returning Home | Sports | Spring 2022

Red Alert: 

What does Alert Level Red mean? Has it ever happened before?

Cornell defines alert level red, the highest alert possible alert level on its COVID-19 dashboard, as a high risk campus environment where a significant increase in cases occurs alongside limited quarantine and/or hospital capacity. 

All students, faculty and staff must wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status, and outdoors when they are unable to maintain a safe distance. Though Cornell has entered into alert level yellow several times in past semesters, it has never before reached alert level red.

Cornell introduced four COVID alert levels at the beginning of the fall 2020 semester, and shifted to a three-color alert system for this academic year.

You said campus shut down. What does that mean?

All final exams were moved online as of noon on Dec. 14. In addition, fitness centers and libraries are closed. Offices and labs remain open, but undergraduate students should not participate in any work-study or lab work. The University has also canceled all undergraduate in-person events and gatherings, and athletic competitions originally scheduled for Sunday.

The Uris Library entrance on Dec. 14, after Cornell closed all libraries under the red alert. (Michael Suguitan/Sun Staff Photographer)

Campus COVID Cases:

What is causing the spike in cases on the Ithaca campus?

According to a Dec. 10 message from top administrators, the current increase in student cases is caused largely by Thanksgiving travel and unmasked off-campus student social gatherings. The vast majority of the cases on campus are from students, not faculty and staff.

The Omicron variant is spreading in the U.S. Is it related to the Cornell spike?

While it’s too early to tell what impact the spread of the Omicron variant on Cornell’s campus will have on its spread throughout the United States, the virus was likely spreading throughout the globe before it was identified and sequenced in South Africa at the end of November. 

The Cornell COVID Testing Laboratory is still currently working to figure out how many of the cases on campus are from the variant, but early testing suggests a substantial number of student cases are Omicron — which explains, in part, the quick spread of the virus among the 97 percent vaccinated population.   

97 percent of the on-campus population at Cornell is vaccinated. Are most of these positives breakthrough cases?

Yes. According to a Dec. 10 statement from top administrators, “the majority of positive cases on campus are breakthroughs, affecting fully vaccinated students.” 

This statement reads that there has not been any serious illnesses or hospitalizations among Cornell cases to date, indicating that vaccines and boosters reduce the severity of infection. 

Cornell is encouraging faculty, staff and students to get a COVID booster as soon as possible. How can I get one?

If you are 18 years or older and it has been at least six months since you completed your first COVID-19 vaccination series — or at least two months after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — you are eligible to receive a booster shot. Boosters are widely available at pharmacies and clinics across Tompkins County and the country. 

Cornell is encouraging all faculty, staff and students to upload proof of their boosters through Daily Check after they receive one. 

Campus Life: 

I’m a Cornell student and cases are spiking on campus. What should I do? 

If you have not tested negative for COVID-19 within the past 48 hours, schedule a supplemental test through the Daily Check website as soon as possible. Students who have tested negative within 48 hours are allowed to leave campus. Before leaving, students should fill out the departure checklist.

The University is encouraging students to stay in Ithaca in their residences until they receive their test results and severely limit interactions with others during that time. Cornell is also asking students to avoid nonessential contact with others, as well as to be vigilant about mask wearing, distancing and hand washing.

If you are remaining on campus over the next week to finish exams, avoid public areas and limit your contact with others. Cornell Dining is offering take-out containers and grab-and-go options to allow for minimal contact.

I tested positive for COVID-19 but I am scheduled to fly back home soon. Can I still leave?

No. If you have tested positive, you may not board your flight. Tompkins County regulations require you to isolate in the county for up to 10 days after receiving a positive test.

What should I do if I live in a dorm and test positive?

It may take several hours for the University to contact you after you find out about your positive test result. While waiting to be contacted, isolate in your room, avoid contact with others and disinfect common spaces after use. For students living in University housing, Cornell will assist you in finding a place to stay during your isolation period. Email [email protected] with “HOUSING ASSISTANCE” in the subject line for help.

My roommate has COVID-19. Will I also be put in quarantine?

You will not be moved to an isolation space if you do not test positive. However, you should isolate yourself from your positive roommate as much as possible, schedule a supplemental test and continue to monitor yourself for symptoms of COVID-19.

Students wait in snaking COVID testing lines on Dec. 14 after the red alert announcement. (Michael Suguitan/Sun Staff Photographer)

Final Exams: 

I will be taking an incomplete on one of my courses. How will it appear on my transcript?

For the fall 2021 semester only, incompletes resulting from making up missed coursework this semester will be resolved without any permanent mark on your transcript. (In regular semesters, once an incomplete in a class is turned into a letter grade, it is marked with an asterisk to indicate that it was once an incomplete.)

Lisa Nishii, vice provost for undergraduate education, wrote to students Tuesday evening about this change, due to the quick shift to online exams.

“Please know that the normal practice of replacing an INC with a grade that includes an asterisk (*) notation on student transcripts will be suspended for Fall 2021 classes,” Nishii wrote. 

My final exam moved online on Dec. 14. What will happen to my exam?

While most classes are holding their online exams during their originally scheduled timeslots, contact your instructor for course specific information. Further, updates will be posted to the academic policies section of the University COVID website.

If you are unable to take an exam due to illness, you may be able to instead receive an incomplete and resolve it by taking a make-up exam in the spring semester, by permission of your instructor.

My final exam was rescheduled, but it conflicts with my travel plans. What should I do?

The University advises to talk to your instructor about the conflict so they can find a testing alternative — which may include a make-up exam.

Now that libraries are closed, is there a quiet location where I can study or take my online exam? 

If you need to get out of your dorm room, you can study in Barton Hall, which will be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. throughout the final exam period.

December 2021 Recognition Ceremony:

I planned to graduate in Barton Hall this December. What’s happening now?

The ceremony originally planned to take place on Dec. 18 has been canceled due to rising COVID cases and out of caution after Cornell detected the Omicron variant. 

Cornell will automatically invite December graduates to attend May 2022 commencement. The University encourages guests to contact hotels to ask for a refund.

“We had been so hopeful to celebrate your accomplishments and resilience,” Connie Mabry, director of University commencement events, wrote to December graduates on Tuesday, “but we cannot risk the health and safety of you, your guests, and our community.”

I ordered a cap and gown. How can I pick it up?

December graduates can pick up their regalia in Day Hall, Room 163, beginning Dec. 15 through Dec. 17 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Caps and gowns that are not picked up will be returned to the vendor, and students will receive a refund.

Returning Home:

I’m finished with my final exams. When should I return home?

If you’ve completed your final exams, you should leave campus as soon as you are able, provided you’ve tested negative within 48 hours of your departure. Also, make sure to complete your departure checklist before leaving campus.

How can I get a supplemental COVID test?

You can schedule a supplemental COVID-19 test through your Daily Check Portal by visiting the “Home” tab, clicking on “Schedule a Supplemental Test” and proceeding to book a testing time slot as you would for a regular weekly surveillance test. Be sure to note changes in testing locations and hours as we near winter break.

My parents were supposed to pick me up. Can they still come to Ithaca?

Yes. Though guests are prohibited from visiting campus under the red alert level, they are allowed to enter briefly to pick up students for winter break, provided they stay masked and follow COVID protocols.


Cornell moved to Alert Level Red. How will this affect the rest of the winter sports season?

Cornell announced Tuesday morning that it canceled the men’s and women’s basketball games scheduled for Sunday at Newman Arena. Cornell Athletic Ticketing also delayed its student hockey season ticket seat selection. As of Wednesday afternoon, Cornell has yet to announce further changes to the winter sports season.  

Spring 2022 Semester: 

Cases are spiking on campus right now. What’s going to happen during the spring semester?

The University has not made any announcements about the modality of the spring semester.

This post has been updated.