ITHACA, N.Y.—Considering the continuing spree of COVID-19 cases, Cornell University announced Thursday evening that it would postpone the start of in-person classes at least two weeks, with students attending virtual classes from Jan. 24 until Feb. 4. In-person classes will begin on Feb. 7, 2022.

While that is probably the most significant measure the school announced, there will also be an extended move-in period to allow for staggered arrivals and “pre-departure testing and enhanced arrival testing.” The Cornell campus was the site of one of the first Omicron variant outbreaks in the United States, with a wave of cases ripping through campus in early- to mid-December and triggering a “red” alert level before students left for break.

“As we prepare for the start of the spring semester, we have been focusing on two important goals: protecting the health of our campus and the surrounding community and ensuring that our students have the best possible residential educational experience,” wrote Cornell President Martha Pollack in a statement—more information available here.

Pollack further stated that “there is no way to entirely contain Omicron” because of how contagious the variant is, and that the school’s focus is shifting from “counting positive cases to minimizing serious health risks.” That position, she said, is supported by science.

This sentiment does match with that being espoused by the Tompkins County Health Department, as Public Health Director Frank Kruppa has reiterated several times that hospitalizations should now be the primary metric of the pandemic’s status.

“Our modeling suggests that Cornell could see a large number of cases during the first few weeks, although given our almost entirely vaccinated and largely boosted population, the vast majority of these cases will be mild or asymptomatic,” Pollack wrote. The school anticipates struggling with maintaining enough quarantine capacity to house all impacted students from those cases, which is part of the reason for the increased COVID-19 measures.

The extra time around arrival, while alleviating the need to attend classes in-person, will hopefully allow students to properly isolate in case of a positive test before or after arriving to campus.

Though the vast majority of students are still gone from campus, cases have continued to appear through Cornell testing. As of Wednesday, there is a 5.01% positivity rate over the last week, with 117 new student cases this week, but 157 overall positive tests on Jan. 5.

Matt Butler

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