Leilani Burke/Sun Staff Photographer

Returning from winter break at the Albany International Airport on Jan. 19, 2022. Local residents shared mixed opinions on Cornellians' return to Ithaca.

February 3, 2022

Ithaca Residents Share Thoughts on Students’ Return

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The return of Cornellians to Ithaca as the Omicron variant continues to loom has induced health anxieties  from some Ithaca residents, though many have expressed their comfort with Cornell’s COVID-19 procedures. 

After Tompkins County’s Jan. 11 COVID-19 spike, some local residents shared concerns over Cornellians’ return to the area. Several expressed hopes that students would adhere to mask-wearing and social-distancing guidelines, despite past reluctance.

Resident Amanda Cissner stated that she was anxious about students returning in fall 2020 during the early months of the pandemic; however, she is no longer concerned.

“Earlier in COVID, I was very apprehensive and very stressed out when students returned, just because it’s a huge influx of people into a community that had kept rates pretty low,” Cissner explained.

Cissner no longer views the arrival of students as the most significant threat to Ithaca, given the emergence and prevalence of the Omicron variant in Tompkins County. 

“I just feel like we’re all destined to get it, so I haven’t even paid attention to students coming back this time,” Cissner said. “It’s not going to be the students who are causing the spread of Omicron in Ithaca. It’s already spread.”

Rebekkah Maclean, a shift supervisor at Collegetown Starbucks, appreciated that Cornell staggered the influx of students by holding virtual classes for the first two weeks. 

“It is really nerve-wracking having everyone back with this new strain of COVID,” Maclean said.

Maclean expressed concern that students often remove their masks while inside the cafe, even after Maclean or her coworkers remind them of the mandate.

“When I announce ‘Hey guys, in between sips, could you keep your masks on?’ I see a lot of people rolling their eyes at me [or] just completely ignoring me,” Maclean said.

Maclean explained why masking rules are important for ensuring a healthy work space. 

“This is our work environment; we want to feel safe being here, and our customers should also feel safe being here,” Maclean said.

Maclean added that students can help residents like her by coming in with their masks on and wearing high-quality masks, such as the N95.

Despite the prevalence of COVID-19, Dunia Mena, an employee at Collegetown 7/11, said she values student presence because it supports local businesses.

“The business here is always the students, so when they’re on break, we see a big difference in our earnings,” Mena said.

Mena stated that students can help limit contagion by wearing masks and practicing social distancing, but she believes widespread vaccination will be the ultimate solution.

Dr. Catherine Cortright, a veterinarian who works in a private practice in Ithaca and is involved with Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, expressed her hesitance visiting public spaces. She stated that she limits her errands to less busy times. 

“I have total pandemic exhaustion,” Cortright said. “So I’m anxious about it and simultaneously completely bored and tired of it.”

Cortright stated that she appreciates  the efforts Cornell has made to protect against Omicron. 

“I honestly think that Cornell has done an amazing job since the beginning of the pandemic with testing and trying to communicate with the community,” Cortright said.

Last year, when classes were virtual, Cortright volunteered in a teaching team for a class at the veterinary college. With the class changing to in-person this semester, Cortright will not teach this semester in order to limit her contact with students and potential COVID transmission.

As these residents noted, students’ return to campus is not a return to normalcy. Cornell’s precautions, including vaccination and mask-wearing, remain vital in order to protect both the campus and the greater Ithaca area.