ITHACA, N.Y.—In collaboration with the Tompkins County Health Department, Cornell University is trying out a new pilot program that would allow fully vaccinated students to test out of self-isolation after testing positive for COVID-19.

Under the program, students would be able to leave self-isolation once they test negative for COVID-19 twice. Currently, students are required to spend 10 days in isolation after testing positive. The program is being capped at a “limited number of fully vaccinated students with breakthrough but asymptomatic COVID-19 infections,” and only applies to students in on-campus housing.

Though the program is sure to raise some eyebrows locally, as area residents are keenly aware that Cornell’s return brought with it hundreds of new COVID-19 cases in late-August through September, the school said it was developed in conjunction with the New York State Department of Health and the Tompkins County Health Department and has been approved by both.

The pilot program will include 25 students initially. There will still be a mandatory isolation of at least three days before a test is administered, followed by a second test after five days if the first is negative. If both of those tests are negative, the student may leave isolation; if the first test is positive, the student is tested on the fifth and seventh days of isolation, and can leave if both of those are negative. Each dismissal from isolation will only come after a health department consultation, said the school.

“It’s clear that some people clear the virus [from their bodies], and they’re no longer infectious and are no longer able to transmit the virus,” said Gary Koretzky, vice provost for academic integration and a professor at Weill Cornell Medicine. “Isolation of positive individuals is a key part of controlling COVID-19 transmission but we also recognize that a 10-day isolation is really disruptive for students’ educations and their lives. So we’re trying to develop a strategy to identify people for whom it’s perfectly safe to leave isolation earlier.”

Currently, 99 percent of Cornell’s undergraduates are vaccinated, as the school instituted a vaccination mandate to come back to school this year for students. Recently, the school took the next step of mandating the vaccine for the whole staff as well.

“We appreciate Cornell’s commitment to this pilot program and to sharing information on their process and results with the Health Department,” said Frank Kruppa, Tompkins County’s public health director. “Partnering with Cornell will allow us to assess the information from this program and generate data so that we may implement a program for the broader community.”

Matt Butler

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