ITHACA, N.Y. — Cornell University, the top research university in New York State, is reopening some of its research labs.

As of May 29, the Southern Tier has entered Phase Two of reopening, which allows for offices and laboratories to reopen. In accordance with the phased reopening of the region, Cornell’s Ithaca campus is beginning research in the categories of health and disease, agriculture and food, national defense and research that supports essential businesses.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Cornell moved to online instruction on March 10, and all research that was deemed non-essential — meaning not related to COVID-19 —  was suspended at the university on March 15.

A number of Cornell labs have been conducting research on the characteristics of COVID-19, and the university is planning to begin research in early June for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Cornell is one nation’s top research institutions, with specialties in the fields of biological and biomedical sciences, health sciences and agricultural sciences. In 2019, Cornell received $1.14 billion in research funding.

The research labs will be opening with some restrictions. According to a statement put out by the university, buildings and facilities must be cleared for reopening and all labs and studios must submit reactivation plans to be approved before research resumes. Researchers and staff must complete safety training for COVID-19. Additionally, personal protective equipment must be available for personnel, there will be mandatory health screenings before entering the workplace every day and social distancing measures must be observed. 

The population density in buildings will not exceed 33%, and the university is working to implement virus testing and daily temperature checks for all individuals who come to campus.

“We will stand up these surveillance programs for our community as we move into additional phases, and we won’t go further in terms of significantly densifying our labs and other support spaces until we have those things in place,” Provost Michael Kotlikoff said.

Only individuals who remained in the Ithaca-area are permitted to conduct research in the labs. Those who have left the region and are returning must self-quarantine before entering the facility. Undergraduate students are discouraged from being included in the early phases of reopening unless they remained in the area or have skills critical to the research.

Although some of the university’s research labs are opening, Kotlikoff encouraged faculty and staff who are working remotely to continue to do so. 

Cornell has not yet announced its plans for the upcoming academic year. The university has posed six different options for reopening to students and faculty, most of which are a hybrid of in-person and online instruction. The Committee on Teaching Reactivation Options will submit recommendations to President Martha Pollack and Kotlikoff June 15. An announcement is expected to be made in late June, according to Kotlikoff.

“As we go further, we will initiate more safety steps – all of this in place while we’re also thinking about instruction in the fall,” Kotlikoff said. “Working groups of faculty, staff and students are working intensely on trying to think about how we might do that safely, without having made any decisions of whether we’re, in fact, going to have a residential fall or not.”

Madison Fernandez

Madison Fernandez is a contributing reporter at the Ithaca Voice. You can reach her by email at mfernandez@ithacavoice.com.