ITHACA, N.Y.—Cornell University announced its fall 2021 return plans Friday, with an ambitious requirement that any students returning to Ithaca, Geneva and Cornell Tech campuses must have received the full doses of one of the various COVID-19 vaccinations.

The move was apparently motivated, at least in part, by the recent acceleration of vaccine eligibility in New York, where every person over 16 years of age will be able to schedule an appointment to receive a vaccine starting on April 6. The school is also planning for a return to fully in-person learning opportunities by fall 2021, depending on immunity levels.

“With the recent announcements of expanded vaccine eligibility in New York and other states, and increasing vaccine production, it is likely that all members of our community will be able to obtain vaccination some time this spring or summer,” the school stated. “Medical and religious exemptions will be accommodated, but the expectation will be that our campuses and classrooms will overwhelmingly consist of vaccinated individuals, greatly reducing the risk of infection for all.”

The school is also establishing a “COVID-19 Proof of Vaccination” tool for students, staff and faculty to notify the school once they have received the vaccine.

Those who might not be eligible or able to receive the vaccination before returning to campus, for whatever reason, “will be expected to be vaccinated as soon after their arrival as possible,” something that Cornell is “investigating ways to facilitate.”

As they have in the past, the school laid out a variety of scenarios for how reopening in the fall could look. In the case of herd immunity (said to be 75 percent vaccinated), which the school is certainly hoping for considering its vaccination requirement, then there would be a full return to in-person learning for any class that is normally taught in that way, without a scheduled online option. The school says that all Cornell community members should plan for that scenario—with accommodations made for international students who face visa or travel issues.

In case of high levels of immunity, defined as over 50 percent vaccinated, the following would be implemented: “if it is determined that we have not achieved full herd immunity, but nearly all faculty and staff and the majority of students are immunized, we will begin the semester with normal in-person instruction without a routinely provided online option, but with enhanced safety measures.” The only difference, in this case, appears to be that surveillance testing, special seating, mask mandate, etc. will all still be a part of in-person instruction, whereas in the herd immunity scenario those extra measures aren’t mentioned, and those with medical justification for not attending will be considered on a case-by-cases basis.

In the case of less than half of the student population being vaccinated upon returning in fall, the school will start in “de-densified classrooms, with a mix of instruction modes similar to the current semester,” at least until the student population hits certain thresholds of immunization.

All members of the Ithaca, Geneva and Cornell Tech campuses are welcome to attend a virtual town hall April 8 from 12-1 p.m. where the school administration will answer questions about the return. Questions can be submitted here.

Matt Butler

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