ITHACA, N.Y.— Cornell University announced today that it is moving to a “yellow” COVID-19 alert level after a jump in cases both on campus and around the Tompkins County community over the last seven days. This signals a heightened chance of a coronavirus outbreak, though the overall incidence rate of positive tests remains low and in-person classes have ended.

The school’s announcement comes in the wake of the county setting ominous records in terms of positive coronavirus test reporting, in addition to hospitalizations from the virus. The school called the move to a yellow level “precautionary,” and said it was intended to “curtail further spread of the virus.”  It is the second time they have upped the alert level this semester, since returning the first weekend of September.

A message from the school yesterday acknowledged the increase in positive tests on-campus and predicted that more would be found, a projection that has clearly been proven correct given today’s announcement. Cornell pointed to a cluster among students in the Greek life community as part of the issue.

“All students who have been identified as close contacts are currently in quarantine and undergoing testing,” the school stated. “However, we anticipate that additional students may be contacted by the health department as contact tracing continues.”

The school’s in-person classes have concluded for the semester as of Nov. 13, meaning they now have study days and semi-final exams until Nov. 24, when the students head home for Thanksgiving break. After that, students will be learning remotely for the remainder of the semester, until the holiday intermission.

“We have come too far as a community to ease up on our diligence in following all public health guidelines,” the announcement stated. It was signed by Provost Michael Kotlikoff and Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi. “As you will recall, earlier in the semester, after a surge in cases, we instituted a yellow alert for a period of approximately two weeks. The entire Cornell community responded remarkably well, particularly students, in taking appropriate steps to recommit to all protocols. We are confident that with the same commitment and vigilance, all of us will once again rise to this critical challenge.”

Friday’s update to the COVID-19 dashboard should provide more details regarding how many more positive tests have been found among the Cornell community and how many students are quarantined. As of Wednesday’s update, the school still had 96 percent of its quarantine capacity but had encountered 14 positive tests over the previous seven days.

The only changes that are triggered by moving to the yellow alert level are the possibility of more frequent testing for some campus populations. Student gatherings were already limited to 10 people in the green stage, and the school did not announce plans to further de-densify the campus. A move to orange alert level would signal potentially moving all classes online, requiring students to stay in their rooms or apartments except for necessary errands and prohibiting all gatherings.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com