ITHACA, N.Y.—Cornell University has re-heightened its campus alert level to “yellow,” indicating “campus transmission rising and prevalence above predicted levels,” according to the school’s COVID tracking page.

COVID-19 had been relatively, perhaps deceptively, quiet for the last few months, particularly after the mid-December outbreak of the Omicron variant on Cornell’s campus just before the Fall semester ended. Yet cases are back on a steep rise over the last few days, with fears that the BA.2 variant has arrived on campus.

On the school’s last COVID-19 testing report, March 22, they register 151 new positive cases in total, with 122 among undergrads. That follows an upward trending number over the last few days, and there are now 263 active cases listed among students and 36 among faculty members.

Without speculating, the number of active cases is likely significantly higher, as the school stated that the positive tests have come from people who are symptomatic and then test—meaning people who are positive but asymptomatic could be carrying and spreading the infection without knowing it.

“This rising transmission is likely due to a number of factors, including relaxing mask requirements, the emergence of the BA.2 variant, and increased social activities,” read a statement from Provost Michael Kotlikoff and others in Cornell leadership. “While the health impacts of infection remain mild for those who are fully vaccinated/boosted, the academic disruption and isolation housing requirements for infected students make it necessary for us to respond to this increase in COVID spread.”

Tompkins County Public Health Director Frank Kruppa said earlier Wednesday that it is quite possible the BA.2 variant has already come to Ithaca, but that sequencing the tests to make a definitive determination takes weeks, and no cases have been confirmed BA.2 in the county yet.

It does not appear that the school reinstated its campus mask mandate.

Cases have spread beyond the school’s model predictions, which triggers the yellow alert. Cornell asked students to resume wearing a “high quality mask” when socializing at “events and attend[ing] parties.” The school is offering those for free. The school further discouraged going to social gatherings, class or work if one feels sick, and said that opt-in surveillance testing is still available, though it has been used far less than its use last semester.

To further that request, the school is asking students to test themselves before the looming Spring Break vacation, as well as after the break ends.

Matt Butler

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