ITHACA, N.Y.—After several weeks of record-shattering COVID-19 case numbers at Cornell University, the school announced that it will expand its vaccination mandate on campus to include booster shots. The mandate is in effect starting Jan. 30, though people who are not eligible for their booster (because they are not yet six months past being fully vaccinated, or two months if they received Johnson & Johnson) will need to receive the booster within 30 days of becoming eligible.

According to the school’s COVID-19 tracker, there have been 1,302 positive tests among the Cornell community in the past week. Many, if not all, of those will likely be determined to be the Omicron variant of COVID-19 once sequenced, as happened last week.

“Because the Omicron variant spreads so readily among vaccinated individuals, and booster vaccinations markedly increase immunity directed against the variant, Cornell will require all students, faculty and staff to have a COVID-19 vaccine and booster as part of comprehensive vaccination against this virus,” the school stated. “The booster requirement must be met by Jan. 31, or 30 days after you become eligible.”

Cornell is not alone, as many higher education institutions either have already implemented a booster mandate or plan to do so before students return for the spring semester. Other schools in the area, like Ithaca College and Tompkins-Cortland Community College, have not announced booster mandates yet, but their positive case situations also did not explode in the same way Cornell’s did.

While Cornell has avoided serious illness among all or nearly all of its student cases, the Omicron variant’s spread did force several parts of campus to close their doors to students, and final exams to be held online instead of in-person.

“There are many opportunities to learn from our recent surge in cases, both in terms of our preparedness for any future variants, and the manner in which the virus continues to impact our campus and the world,” the school stated. “We will work earnestly over the coming weeks to devise an approach to next semester that is both safe and sustainable, understanding that as we approach the two-year anniversary of the pandemic, we are all depleted from its impact.”

Matt Butler

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