In April, The Sun conducted a campus-wide opinion poll to better understand Cornellians’ thoughts on how the University handled the COVID-19 pandemic. Reaching 211 individuals and including faculty, staff, undergraduates and graduate students, the poll revealed broad support for most of the University’s tactics in handling the pandemic.
Poll participants tended to be graduate students, with that group making up nearly 42% of respondents compared to 26% faculty and staff, and just under 31% undergraduates. Out of the 211 participants, just over 70% were white, but gender was somewhat more balanced at 46% female, 47.4% male and 2.8% nonbinary. Additionally, when asked about their political views and socioeconomic backgrounds on a 1-10 point scale, the poll found that participants also tended to be progressive and ranked themselves as mostly coming from moderately wealthy backgrounds.
The poll revealed broad support for the University’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 69% of participants said they either approved or strongly approved of the University’s COVID-19 policies.
Major University decisions also scored highly, with 80.6% of participants saying they supported Cornell’s March 2020 shutdown of its Ithaca campus, 78.7% supporting the University’s decision to offer classes in remote, hybrid and in-person modalities during the 2020-21 academic year, 81.5% supporting the University’s decision to hold all classes in person during the 2021-22 academic year and 67.7% supporting the University’s decision to hold all fall final exams online after Dec. 14, 2021 in response to a rise in COVID-19 cases on campus.
Cornell’s approach has been different from many other universities. The tendency of the University to react with strong measures like mandatory testing, masking and vaccinations has sometimes caused students to feel overwhelmed but protected.
“Being a first-year graduate student and coming from a large public university in Texas, the difference in COVID responses between there and here has been night and day,” said Matthew Dew grad. “At times it can feel like a bit much, but on the whole, I think they’ve done a pretty good job.”
Among the University’s most popular policies have been its vaccine mandates. Nearly 80% of poll participants said they supported or strongly supported Cornell’s fall 2021 decision to require all students without valid exemptions to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and 73.5% supported the University’s spring 2022 booster mandate.
Mask mandates and changes to masking rules have been slightly less popular. Of poll participants, almost 69% supported or strongly supported the University’s mask mandates which went into effect during fall 2020, while just under 61% supported the University’s spring 2022 rule that prohibited wearing cloth masks without medical-grade masks in addition. 58.3% said they support the University’s recent decision to remove mask mandates outside academic and certain medical and transportation settings.
Cornellians’ behavior around masking is also much more divided than their behavior around vaccination. While 92% of students and 90% of faculty and staff received a booster vaccine shot, poll participants said that, in campus areas where mask wearing is not mandatory, just over 31% always wear masks, 16.6% frequently wear masks, 16.6% either infrequently or very infrequently wear masks and 27% never wear masks.
Despite the University’s efforts to provide medical-grade masks to the Ithaca campus community, 38.4% of poll participants said they had never gotten masks from test sites where they are available and 33.6% of participants only got masks from test sites 1-4 times.
Support for testing also differs based on the policy in question. 72.5% of poll participants said they supported the University’s policy of regular testing, while just over 59% of participants said they support the current lack of mandatory testing and only 54.5% support the penalties students faced if they missed mandatory tests.
Like campus resources for masks, campus testing resources were rarely used by poll participants: since Feb. 21, only 21.8% of participants had used Cornell’s supplemental tests more than 5 times.
Perhaps the University’s most controversial COVID-19 policy was its green-yellow-red alert system, which used color-coded tiers to designate different sets of campus COVID-19 policies. While 54.5% of participants said they were supportive or strongly supportive of the system, only 29.4% said they approved or strongly approved of the way the alert levels changed and the transparency, clarity and timing of these changes. 54% of participants said they either disapproved or strongly disapproved of the way the levels were changed in response to falling or rising cases on campus.
The lack of consistency in University policy has confused students like Samuel Chessler ’22, who said he thinks the University isn’t always prioritizing the right things.
“Cornell has never had a consistent Covid policy. There has never been any metrics to define success nor any long term goals of what the University wanted to reach,” Chessler said. “Messaging from the administration often conflicts with itself going from ‘we need to live with this’ to ‘we’re going to code yellow because of a few cases.’
Many Cornellians want the University to keep some of its COVID-19-era measures in place. Almost 56% of participants said they didn’t want the University to immediately eliminate its mask mandate, and 62.5% said they also didn’t want the University to close its campus PCR testing sites and restore those spaces to their previous functions.
For Cornellians like Gianno Pannafino grad, these policies nonetheless should help the campus move past the pandemic rather than holding it in the past.
“Any one individual’s risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 has never been lower. Furthermore, if vaccines, boosters, and therapeutics still aren’t enough to put one [at] ease, N95s/KN95s are freely available and one-way protective,” Pannafino said. “Each of us has the power to control our individual level of risk tolerance. It’s time we accept this fact and move on with our lives.”
Andie Kim ’24 contributed data analysis.