Important message regarding New York state guidelines

Dear Cornell community,

Last Friday, the State of New York issued new guidelines for universities and colleges. These guidelines require significant changes in operation whenever the number of positive COVID-19 cases over a two-week period on a college campus exceeds 100 or 5% of the campus population (faculty, staff, and students), whichever is smaller. They do not require the university to shut down in that circumstance, nor do they require students to quarantine in their rooms, except for those who are in quarantine for cause, e.g., because of a contact with a known positive case. But they do require that for a two-week period, all teaching moves online, dining halls move to take-out meals only, and a variety of other campus activities are reduced or suspended.

Because the limit of 100 applies to all universities with a population greater than 2,000, it sets a very high bar for large schools like ours. To stay below it, we need to keep weekly infections to just a small fraction of a percent. And the challenge is even greater here because of our aggressive surveillance testing program. With frequent, universal testing, the program is designed to catch nearly every case of infection, including the many asymptomatic cases that would not be identified or counted with the more typical for-cause testing, or with a less aggressive surveillance testing program.

What this means is that we need everyone to be hyper-vigilant in their public health practices: consistently wearing masks, staying distanced from one another, washing hands, and eschewing all but small gatherings. Just a couple of parties could negate all of the efforts of tens of thousands of others.

Staying below the new limit will be extremely difficult, and make no mistake: there is no guarantee of success. The new limit is less than half of the peak infection level that we had predicted and for which we prepared. But we are all here now, and this is our newest new reality, so we need to do what Cornellians have always done when faced with an enormous challenge: rise up to do everything we can to meet it.