Cornell Limits Student Gatherings As COVID-19 Clusters Increase

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TOMPKINS COUNTY, NY (WSKG) – Clusters of COVID-19 have developed among Cornell students since classes began on Sept. 2. University officials reported the largest increase was because of gatherings by student athletes.

Frank Kruppa is the director of the health department in Tompkins County, where Cornell is located. He said no one should be surprised that there are more COVID-19 cases now that students are back. He is, however, disappointed in how the current outbreak among Cornell students happened.

“It is okay for people to get together in smaller groups, but what’s really important and what wasn’t being adhered to was the wearing of masks and the keeping of six foot of separation,” Kruppa said.

He said the clusters came from student gatherings of 25 or less, which is within public health guidelines. The University has now reduced that to limit student gatherings to no more than 10 people.

Joel Malina is Cornell’s Vice President of University Relations. He said the university has over 300 volunteer students and staff monitors. They interact with students on and off campus. About 50 percent of students live off-campus in the Ithaca area

Celia Clarke/WSKG Public Radio

Joel Malina, Vice President for University Relations, Cornell University, speaking during a virtual town hall about the university’s reopening plans. (screen capture, Celia Clarke/WSKG Public Radio).

“Helping people understand what is needed in terms of compliance, what is needed in terms of respecting the public health of the entire community — overwhelmingly it’s been successful,” Malina said. “We just have to make sure that these early indications of some isolated misbehaviors don’t become larger.”

Malina said the University takes the violations that lead to the outbreak seriously. He said students who engage in intentionally risky behavior will face more serious punishment.

“We have had cases of students being temporarily suspended and even banned from campus,” he said.

Kruppa said students were required to be tested when they arrived in Tompkins County. That testing showed a very low infection rate among students coming into the county for the semester. He said it’s not likely officials will every figure out where the outbreak started. It’s an example of the limitations of testing and the importance of following the basic safety guidelines.

“The challenge is a test is only that moment in time,” Kruppa said. “And so they could have tested negative upon the re-entry testing and then the disease incubated within them, and they could have been positive the next day or the day after without knowing it.”

The majority of the new cases are asymptomatic. They were identified through contact tracing.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Cornell reported 62 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases determined during the first week of September. All are students.

New York requires colleges to move to remote learning if they have 100 positive cases or cases equivalent to 5 percent of a school’s population in a two-week period.