Halfway through the fall semester, Cornell’s reopening plan has proven to be one of the most successful in the United States. There are a few reasons the University was able to get it right, but the in-person fall hasn’t been without its challenges.
On Thursday — the second day of classes — Cornell entered a yellow alert level, indicating a low to moderate risk level. There are now 47 total active cases on campus and 61 active cases in Tompkins County.
On Friday, Tompkins County Health Department identified the first cluster of COVID-19 cases at Cornell, following several small social gatherings where people did not social distance or wear masks. The county now has 18 active cases.
The Sun spoke with President Martha Pollack, Provost Michael Kotlikoff, Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi, Vice President of Facilities and Campus Services Rick Burgess, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Presidential Advisor for Diversity and Equity Avery August and Vice President for University Relations Joel Malina about Cornell’s reopening plan and anti-racism initiatives.
The Cornell reopening model hinges on two factors: Students will return to Ithaca, as found in survey results, and Cornell has no jurisdiction over students who live off-campus, making testing for COVID-19 difficult if the campus is closed. Testing is integral to their model, as it should be, and inability to test off-campus students would mean COVID-19 could and would spread, potentially largely undetected. These factors are contestable, but let’s assume for a moment the model works, at least within its own framework. The model demands testing, testing and more testing within the Cornell community to keep the virus from spreading. It, of course, takes into account the relationship of the campus to the broader area: “We were surprised to see that the outside infections had such a large effect on results.
Sun writer Anil Oza quotes from President Martha E. Pollack on the scientific basis for opening Cornell and Andrew V. Lorenzen highlights some important issues with that decision in his column. On a broader scale, science often involves making a model and testing it. Cornell leadership has, under very difficult circumstances, overseen the development of a COVID-19 model and plan in which the Provost and President strongly believe. As many Cornell students are taught, confidence in a model depends on how well predictions of the model have been tested and supported. The Cornell model has not been tested, but the first test involving all of us is imminent. Maybe the outcome will be in accord with the model (hopefully!) and maybe not.