Cornell University announced Tuesday that it is shutting down its Ithaca, New York campus after several students tested positive for the highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19.
The Ivy League school moved to “Alert Level Red” (signifying high risk) after the testing lab found the new variant in “a significant number of positive student samples.” As of Monday, the Ivy League school reported 883 active COVID cases, out of which 276 were new positive tests.
All university activities have been suspended, including a recognition ceremony for fall graduates this week. All classes and final exams will be conducted online.
Vice President Joel Malina told NPR that the university followed a “science-based approach” to COVID-related decision-making.
“Virtually every case of the Omicron variant to date has been found in fully vaccinated students, a portion of whom had also received a booster shot. We have not seen evidence of significant disease in our students to date,” Malina said,
What it Means
The university is allowing students who have tested negative within 48 hours to leave campus for winter break. Those who tested positive will need to complete a 10-day isolation period at their residence in Ithaca.
The school has also closed libraries, all sports, and fitness centers. Only labs and offices are open, although they are inaccessible to undergraduates.
Cornell follows an “aggressive testing plan” and a mask mandate for faculty, staff, and the student community. Following the latest surge, the school has asked visitors and guests accompanying students for their winter break to also “remain continuously masked.”
“It is obviously extremely dispiriting to have to take these steps,” President Martha Pollack wrote in a letter to the student body. “However, since the start of the pandemic, our commitment has been to follow the science and do all we can to protect the health of our faculty, staff, and students.”