ITHACA, N.Y.—Cornell University has upped its COVID-19 alert level to yellow in response to a cluster of positive coronavirus cases discovered among students.

In total, the school announced that it had found 42 cases in the past week. Twelve of those cases had been found in connection to a single cluster among students. For clarity, Cornell’s “yellow” alert level means that “incidence remains low, but indicators show increased, or potential for increase in, transmissions.”

The clusters were discovered as students return to campus from winter break though the school seemed to indicate that the 30 cases which were outside of the cluster were found using surveillance testing, not part of the arrival testing regimen, meaning that they indicate community spread as opposed to the virus coming into Ithaca from elsewhere.

“A rise in non-arrival positive COVID-19 test results indicates transmission has occurred locally due to lack of adherence to public health measures such as physical distancing, mask-wearing, and avoiding gatherings,” the school announced. The school additionally revealed that the cluster itself stems from a Greek life party that was held in Collegetown in January.

In total, last week saw 71 positive tests at the school, though Cornell lists only 17 as being on-campus positives. The 71 positive tests represented a 0.24 percent positivity rate.

The higher risk level includes more intense restrictions on gatherings and testing, though the full extent of this specific activation of the yellow alert level wasn’t specified:

  • Practice everyday precautions: physical distancing, masks required, hand washing.
  • Combination of in-person/hybrid and online learning.
  • Frequency of testing may be increased for some populations.
  • Cornell may further reduce capacity of on-campus spaces.
  • Student gatherings of 10 people or fewer (physical distancing and masks required)
  • Visitors are not allowed on campus and travel is strongly discouraged.

However, Cornell President Martha Pollack did issue a statement that stated that the Cornell community should avoid gatherings of any size.

“Moving to COVID-19 alert level yellow prior to the first day of classes is not the start to the semester that we had hoped for,” Pollack wrote. “And with Super Bowl weekend upon us, it is imperative that we each lead by example by following all public health and safety guidelines, including avoiding gatherings of any size.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Managing Editor at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at