COVID-19 Surge with 666 Positive Tests from 12/6 to 12/12: Cornell University Moves to ‘Alert Level Red’ and Changes Exam Schedule

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Surveillance testing has continued to identify the rapid spread of COVID-19 among our student population, according to ta letter Cornell University President Martha E. Pollack. While faculty and staff case numbers currently remain low, the university’s COVID-19 testing lab team identified evidence of the highly contagious Omicron variant in a significant number of Monday’s positive student samples. As a result, and out of an abundance of caution, the university is moving to Alert Level Red and announcing a number of immediate measures.

The evidence of Omicron is considered preliminary, as PCR testing has identified its hallmark (the so-called S-gene dropout) in a substantial number of virus samples. While we must await confirmatory sequencing information to be sure that the source is Omicron, we are proceeding as if it is.




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. There is some evidence (though far from certain) that the Omicron generally causes milder cases, particularly among vaccinated individuals. However, when you have high transmissibility, you’re going to have very high numbers of cases, and so even with lower rates of serious illness, outbreaks must be taken seriously, according to the president’s letter.

Academic guidance from Cornell University:

All final exams will move to an online format as of noon, Tuesday, December 14. Exams that have already been moved to an online format will proceed as scheduled, including today’s exams. Some exams still scheduled to be in person may be able to switch immediately to an online modality; others may need to be rescheduled to give faculty time to pivot. Please be vigilant about looking for email updates from your faculty. More details about exams will be posted to the academic policies section on the COVID-19 website as soon as available.

Event cancellations and campus impacts:

All university activities involving undergraduates (including events and social gatherings) and all university-sponsored events (including winter celebrations) are canceled.

The December 18 recognition ceremony for December graduates is canceled.

Students utilizing Cornell Dining are strongly encouraged to “grab-and-go”; if you must eat near others, please do so at a distance.

Libraries are closed to students.

Athletics competitions on Sunday are canceled. Fitness centers and gyms are closed to students.

Offices and labs remain open, but undergraduate students should not participate in any work-study or lab work.

Student travel and campus public health guidance:

Students who have tested negative within the past 48 hours (Saturday or Sunday) and wish to leave campus are welcome to do so. Please wear a mask at all times during travel, take a COVID-19 test at your destination, and self-quarantine until you receive your result.

All students must complete their Departure Checklist prior to leaving campus.

Any student who has not tested negative in the past 48 hours should get a supplemental test as soon as possible. Schedule your test at www.dailycheck.cornell.edu. Students are encouraged to stay in Ithaca, in their residences, until their test results are received, and severely limit interactions with others during that time. More information about departure testing, how to get results, and extended appointment hours is available in the Daily Check.

Cornell University will continue to assist on-campus residential students who have tested positive in safely isolating for the required 10-day duration until they receive approval from the Tompkins County Health Department to travel safely.

Visitors and guests are not allowed on campus, with the exception of those picking up students for break. In that case, Cornell University asks that you remain continuously masked while briefly on campus.

Students should avoid nonessential contact with others and increase their vigilance with mask-wearing, distancing, and hand washing. As of December 14, 2021, over 97% of our student body is free of the virus and Cornell University wants everyone to be able to enjoy a healthy winter break with family and friends.

Staff and faculty:

Mandatory surveillance testing will continue as normal for all employees currently enrolled. Supplemental testing will continue to be available for all employees.

“While I want to provide reassurance that, to date, we have not seen severe illness in any of our infected students, we do have a role to play in reducing the spread of the disease in the broader community. The fact that we have not experienced severe illness among our student population may lead some to ask why we are imposing such serious steps. So let me share the underlying math: Consider one variant, let’s call it A, in which each person infects two others on average, and which causes serious illness in 1% of cases. After ten iterations of transmission, you’ll have about 1,000 cases, and 10 instances of serious illness. Now consider variant B, which is twice as infectious, so each person infects four others on average, but which causes serious illness only one-tenth as often, i.e., in only 0.1% of cases. Unchecked, over the same ten iterations of transmission, with variant B you’ll have more than a million cases, and about 1,000 individuals with serious illness. Of course, other factors come into play, including the fact that the virus will “run out” of people to infect in any community, but the point is that higher transmissibility leads to exponential growth, which outweighs the linear decrease in percent of severe cases. To avoid this type of situation, it is imperative not to let such infections run unchecked, but to take steps that limit transmission.”

— Martha Pollack, President Cornell University

As of December 12, 2021, Cornell University reported that 97% of the On-Campus Population was vaccinated — 26,005 students and 13,300 faculty and staff members.

The positivity rate was 3.01% for 12/6/2021 to 12/12/2021. In the past seven days up to 12/12/2021, positive tests peaked at 227 on December 11, 2021

December 12, 2021 … 214 +
December 11, 2021 … 227 +
December 10, 2021 … 67 +
December 09, 2021 … 61 +
December 08, 2021 … 58 +
December 07, 2021 … 27 +
December 06, 2021 … 12 +

These data reflect Cornell’s testing programs for students, faculty and staff on the Ithaca campus, including Cornell AgriTech. Unlike testing in other parts of the nation (much of which is limited to testing of symptomatic individuals), we are using surveillance testing, which allows us to proactively test all members of our campus community, not just those who are experiencing symptoms or have a known contact with a positive case. As a result, many of the positive test results Cornell University reports asymptomatic infections that most other testing programs would miss. The COVID-19 information is typically updated daily by Cornell University.




In the Red: High category, all students, faculty, staff and visitors must wear masks indoors; or outdoors one physical distancing is not possible. Classroom and lab capacity may be reduced or seating may be reconfigured; additional classes may move online. All faculty, staff and students must wear masks when indoors. Certain facilities, such as Jim’s my temporary Lee closed. Other facilities, such as dining halls and library’s, may have restricted capacity and physical distancing requirements.

Cornell-sponsored events, student activities and other gatherings may be further limited or move fully online.




Travel for Cornell-related business, study or research is permitted; international travel is subject to the international pandemic travel policy. Those returning from travel (personal or business-related) are required to obtain a supplemental test before accessing campus buildings or facilities, or re-starting surveillance testing.

Visitors are not allowed to access campus facilities without prior approval. Approved visitors must follow all public health guidance, including wearing masks when indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

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