[MUSIC PLAYING] JOEL MALINA: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's town hall. I'm Joel Malina, Vice President for University Relations. I want to thank all of you for submitting questions in advance. We hope to get to as many of them as possible in the next hour.
Let me quickly move to introducing our panelists. We'll have some introductory statements from President Pollack from Provost Kotlikoff, and then we'll jump right into the questions. Our panelists today-- Martha Pollack, President; Mike Kotlikoff, our provost; Mary Opperman, Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer; Peter Frazier, the Eleanor and Howard Morgan Professor of Operations Research and Information Engineering; Gary Koretzky, Vice Provost for Academic Intergration; and Lisa Nishii, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. Martha, please.
MARTHA POLLACK: Thank you, Joel. Hello, everyone, and thank you all for joining us. I do hope everyone has been having a relaxing, if too rainy, summer. And I hope that many of you were able to make it to the street fair yesterday. It was really so great to finally see So many of you again in person and to have the chance to thank our amazing staff for everything you've done over the past year and a half.
And before I say anything else, I also want to thank all of you for the thing you've done that, more than anything else, has enabled us to return to full in-person instruction this fall, and that is getting vaccinated. Our vaccination levels on campus are truly outstanding. As of right now, 94% of our campus community is fully vaccinated, including 99% of our faculty.
And when you couple that with the near-total vaccination rate we expect from our student body, who are returning to campus with a vaccine mandate, we anticipate that even with the more infectious new variants, we'll be able both to keep our campus open and keep it safe throughout the fall, provided we have in place the other public health measures we've announced, including indoor masking and surveillance testing, at least to start the semester.
That being said, I sincerely hope that any of you not get vaccinated we'll take the opportunity to do so before the semester begins. We've learned a lot about COVID-19 and this new Delta variant. And one thing we know for sure is that the protection afforded by the vaccinations is more important now than ever.
As you all know, our expectation last spring was that a fully vaccinated campus population would enable us to run the university pretty much the way we did before the pandemic with fully-densified classrooms, offices, dining halls, and labs, and without the need for distancing or masking or surveillance testing.
Alas, the most predictable thing about this pandemic is its unpredictability. And we made all those plans with an asterisk, that if we encountered a rising transmission or the situation changed as a result of variants, we would, just as we have since the beginning of the pandemic, rely on the science and take whatever measures we needed to enable the university to operate safely.
One of the hallmarks of Cornell's COVID response has been our adaptability, enabling us to react as needed in a data-driven fashion to a changing environment. And so adapt we have. As we announced last week and as I just mentioned, we've reinstated an indoor mask mandate. And to stay vigilant about the potential spread of the virus on campus, we will continue surveillance testing of everyone in our community who is not vaccinated.
Additionally, we will surveil our unvaccinated undergraduates and professional students and some of our staff. We hope that as the semester unfolds, we'll be able to roll back some of this. But again, this decision will be made as we analyze our own data.
All of the data continues to demonstrate excellent protection by the available vaccines against all of the currently circulating variants. And we remain optimistic that we're going to be able to hold a fall semester that, while not quite as close to normal as we were hoping, will still be much closer to normal than what we experienced last fall and last spring.
So before we get to your questions, I just want to say yet again, thank you all for the incredible work that you've put into getting to this point. I'm really looking forward to having a busy and active campus again and getting to see our students, our faculty, and our staff in person and not just through Zoom. And with that, I'll turn things back to Joel. Joel?
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Martha. And Mike, to you for some opening thoughts.
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Thanks, Joel. Thanks, Martha. And thank you all for taking the time to join us.
So as we all know, the Delta variant has changed things. What I want to go through with you for a few minutes is what it has changed and what we're doing about it. Over the past several weeks, the same team that's been responsible for maintaining our community's health over the course of the pandemic has been working to prepare for the fall semester and making the kinds of adjustments that are necessary to confront this challenge while preserving our residential campus experience for students and advancing our research and discovery programs.
As you know, we've been here before. And we've managed this rapidly-changing public health risk thoughtfully and safely. So what are we doing in response to the current risks?
First, as you will hear from Professor Peter Frazier, we've carefully evaluated the data and adjusted our plans based on the understanding of this new variant and how its risks can be minimized. Peter's team has scoured the literature over the past weeks and provided critical advice that we've shared with many other universities. As was the case last year, this scientific approach has guided and will continue to guide all of our decisions.
So what exactly have we changed? Importantly, we are again relying on the major factor that has differentiated and protected us-- extensive surveillance testing. We will test all unvaccinated individuals twice per week, and test vaccinated students and some staff to rapidly identify, and isolate any breakthrough infections in vaccinated individuals. This is critical and will allow us, as before, to understand the prevalence of the virus on our campus and report that on a daily basis in our dashboard to the community.
Second, as we scale up our testing, any member of the community will be able to opt in to regular testing or schedule a single test if they are concerned about their own exposure. Third, as in the height of the pandemic, Gary Koretzky, working with Cornell Health, will lead a team to conduct careful followup testing of close contacts of all positives to understand where the virus is coming from and where the virus is going.
Fourth, we have, as Martha said, put in place a mask mandate. And this, along with our high vaccination percentage, provides a very important additional safety layer. And then, finally, over the coming weeks, you will see many tents going up around campus that will allow us to have as many events outdoors as possible.
So you might ask, OK, but what is the effect of these changes? And by the way, I still feel at risk. So before we go to the specific questions, I want to ask Peter Frazier to address some overriding concerns that we've heard. We know these questions are on your mind, and Peter and his team have spent weeks looking at the available scientific data to try and address them.
So Peter, I'm vaccinated, but I'm concerned about emerging evidence that even vaccinated individuals are at risk of being infected by the Delta variant. I don't want to put myself at risk by being on campus. What do you say?
PETER FRAZIER: Yes, the Delta variant is definitely scary because it transmits much faster than previous widespread variants. But at the same time, it's really important to understand that vaccination still provides a really immense amount of protection.
So first, when you look at infection-- so that includes both people who develop symptoms and people who never develop symptoms. Looking at infection, vaccines confer a lot of protection, even against the Delta variant. For example, there is an article in The Lancet looking at effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine against the Delta variant and finds that vaccinated people are about 80%-- 79% less likely to get infected than unvaccinated ones. It's not 100% protection, but it's really high. It's really substantial.
Second, if you do manage to get infected, we worry that you'll develop severe symptoms. So vaccines also provide a huge amount of protection against this. We estimate that, if you compare an infected vaccinated person against an infected unvaccinated person, the vaccinated person is about 80%-- also 80% less likely to require hospitalization. So when you think about the protection against severe disease, those two different factors, from infection and from developing severe symptoms given infection, those combine together to protect you quite a bit.
Third, if you get infected, we also worry that you'll transmit infection to other people. So here the evidence is not quite as complete as for the other outcomes. But I've seen estimates of 40%, 50%. Looking at our own data, the protection seems to be maybe even a bit higher than 50%. So the best estimate that I think is reasonable is that vaccination cuts the risk of transmission approximately in half.
So when you put all these factors together in a population of fully vaccinated people, without any other interventions, transmission is really reduced by a lot-- by about 90% compared to a population with unvaccinated people. Now, at the same time, 90% is better than 80%, but it's not 100%. So you can have a population of vaccinated people that can transmit between each other. And there have been examples of outbreaks in populations of people that have high vaccination rates.
So for example, there's a famous case that the CDC reported on associated with what's called Independence Week in Provincetown, Massachusetts in Cape Cod. So that was a weeklong event associated with a really large amount of social activity and a large number of visitors. And there was an outbreak with several hundred people where roughly 3/4 of them were vaccinated.
So that's why, in addition to having really high vaccination rates here at Cornell, we have additional interventions. So the first intervention that we have that Provincetown, Massachusetts, didn't have is that the vaccination rate here is really incredibly high. Vaccination is mandatory for students, and the fraction of employees that are unvaccinated is below 15%-- roughly around 15%, depending on how you count on campus and off campus. That number is really not a number that you see in the general population.
Second, we have twice-weekly testing for unvaccinated people and also once-weekly testing for a large fraction of vaccinated people. So that finds clusters early before they become too big.
Third, we have mandatory masks in place on campus. So masks are really effective. So there's a review, for example, in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that if you have masking for just one of the two parties involved in an infection-- the source or the exposed person-- then transmission is reduced by 70%, 80%. If both people are masked, then you get that protection twice. And so maybe the level of protection is something like 95%.
So when you put all that together-- vaccination and masking-- our best estimate is that transmission is reduced by about 99.5%. It's really a large amount.
So we've been doing a lot of modeling, looking at the impact of this, understanding that not everyone is vaccinated, understanding that masks won't be worn all of the time. Masks will be almost probably never worn at off-campus parties, and so there will be some transmission. But even with pessimistic assumptions about masking, pessimistic assumptions about the rate of contact among students, the models-- the predictions from the models that we've been looking at suggests that we're really quite safe from large outbreaks.
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Thanks, Peter. How about in-class teaching? Is it really safe to hold classes in person?
PETER FRAZIER: This is something else that we have really been spending a huge amount of time with. PhD students on the modeling team have been putting in long hours. So as I was just saying, first of all, mandatory vaccination for students, masking-- which we think compliance with masking will be high in classrooms-- and also very high vaccination rates for instructors, all of those together reduce the chance of person-to-person transmission by a really large amount, by roughly 99.5%.
And even if you have an infectious individual that's not vaccinated, or if only the exposed individual is wearing a mask, still, the reduction in transmission is high, about 96%. So those interventions together are really substantially reducing the potential for transmission in the classroom.
Second, we have regular surveillance testing, more frequent for unvaccinated people, but still once a week for many vaccinated individuals, including all undergraduates, professional students. And that surveillance, and then the associated contact tracing, that will find clusters in the population and allow isolation of positive cases and keep prevalence in the student population low.
So we expect to see cases in the student population as students arrive from elsewhere. And infections that were acquired at home-- or, in some cases, during travel-- will be picked up in surveillance. But we expect that the amount of transmission that will occur starting from those source cases will be low overall. And so you expect to see a bump in the number of cases and then it fall as we start classes and move into the semester.
So putting all that together into a collection of mathematical models, we have a lot of uncertainty. But the best estimate that we have based on kind of dense, normal classroom seating and universal masking and the vaccination rates that we see in our student populations, our best estimate is that we'll see two secondary infections in total across the student body due to classroom transmission over the fall semester. So I wish it were zero, but it's a low risk.
It may even be possible, if prevalence falls among students after student arrival, as we think will happen, it might even be possible to relax masking requirements for vaccinated students without significantly increasing risk. But we'll have to see what happens.
So that's thinking about students. Instructors are at even lower risk. And that's because, in many cases-- or at least many instructors are at even lower risk than the low risk experienced by students. And that's because, in many situations, an instructor, for example, while lecturing, is not immediately next to students in the front row but instead is separated a little bit and can spend a substantial amount of their time instructing six feet away from students.
So an instructor who remains masked while teaching, is vaccinated, and then maintains social distance from students when it's practical, we estimate that the probability that such an instructor would become infected with SARS-CoV-2 at any point over the course of the fall semester-- we estimate that that's about one in 10,000.
And that number, I think, is a low number. It's comparable, for example, to one's chance of being struck by lightning during one's lifetime, which is about 1 in 15,000. And it's about 100 times smaller than the recent reported rate of infection in Tompkins County. So based on those numbers, I do think that it's safe to hold class in person.
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Thanks, Peter, and last question. I have a child at home who is too young to be vaccinated. I'm a faculty member. And I'm worried about getting infected while teaching and then transmitting to my child, or I'm a staff member worried about interacting with students and transmitting to my kids. What is the risk of this?
PETER FRAZIER: Yeah, so that's definitely something to have concern about. And I have children, and I very much want to protect them. So to try to quantify that, as I was just saying, thinking first about an instructor, the risk of becoming infected due to one's teaching in person is about one in 10,000, we think, for someone who is doing a good job of using masking and maintaining social distance when practical and then also, importantly, who's fully vaccinated.
And then the risk of becoming infected and then transmitting that to a child at home or to another family member, that's going to be lower than the chance of being infected, because not every infection is transmitted. Many people who are infected do transmit to household members, but it doesn't happen every time. And some of the evidence that I was talking about before do suggest that the probability of transmitting to someone else in your household is significantly reduced by about half if you're vaccinated.
So that would put the risk to a child somewhere maybe at about 1 in 20,000, maybe something like that. So in order to understand whether that number is big or small, it's useful to have a comparison. Maybe one comparison to think about would be the risk of becoming infected that a child under the age of 12 would face from other sources here in Tompkins County. And in many ways, children in Tompkins County are luckier than children elsewhere around the country and around the world.
So over the last two weeks, we've seen-- based on data reported on the Tompkins County Health Department website-- we've seen 13 cases in children under the age of 12. So that's about one infection per day. And then so if you prorate that for the length of the fall semester, the risk that a child faces of becoming infected due to various other sources, whether through the parent or through direct interaction with others in the community, that risk is about 100 times higher than the risk they face because a parent teaches in person. So if a parent teaches in person, it's not really significantly increasing the risk to the child.
So that's teaching. Other employees have the same concern, other employees who do not teach. The modeling that I just described, I think, gives a fairly good sense for the risk faced by other individuals in other kinds of roles on campus. You can think about-- employees who interact with others on campus are protected by many of the same things that protect instructors.
So the people around them will wear masks most of the time when at work. Those other people will have a vaccination rate much higher than you can expect in the outside world. The other people that you're likely to have a large amount of interaction with are also people who are likely to be tested regularly, even if they're vaccinated.
And then also, a great thing about a work environment is that the amount of physical distance and the potential for droplet exchange is much smaller than you would expect at a social gathering or in a household. So work environments are naturally places where there's going to be less transmission. So all those things that protect instructors, they also protect other employees.
Now, there are some important differences between transmission in classrooms and transmission in other places at work. So in particular, the vaccination rate for students is just extremely high. And while the vaccination rate for employees is very high, it's not as high as the vaccination rate for students.
So we've done sensitivity analyses looking at the risk of transmission as the vaccination rate of the people around you. When it's a little bit lower, risk does rise, but it does so gradually. So if you're in a situation where 70% of the people around you are vaccinated, even though the risk is not quite as small as one in 10,000, the risk is still very low.
So if you put all this together, if an employee is, number one, careful about wearing a mask when around others, number two, maintain social distance whenever that's practical, and then, number three, gets vaccinated, then the risk of infection to that individual is very low.
And so, in addition to complying with-- to taking advantage of the ability to wear a mask to protect yourself-- if you're not vaccinated, really, the best thing that you can do to protect yourself, but also to protect your family, is to get vaccinated. So in addition to protecting yourself by reducing the chance that you'll get seriously sick, it really also substantially reduces that you'll become infected and then transmit to others.
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Thank you, Peter. Over to you, Joel, for questions.
JOEL MALINA: Thanks, Mike, and thank you, Peter. We've got a little more than a half hour. I've arranged a number of the questions by category. The first set are related to the topic of repopulating or reopening campus.
Gary Koretzky, I'll start with you. My staff have expressed concerns about being back on campus given the Delta variant. Can you speak to what steps will be taken if we see pockets of infections happening soon after students arrive and campus has become more populated?
GARY KORETZKY: Yes, certainly, Joel. Thank you very much, and also, thank all of you for being on the call today. So I think that the community knows very well a lot of the things that we're doing. We're doing these public health measures. Masking, testing, they're very, very visible.
I think that what is less visible is, I would say, as important as all of the public health measures. And that is that there's a lot of work that's being done behind the scenes so that we can react appropriately as circumstances evolve. Martha, I think, said it best. The only predictable thing about this virus is that it's not predictable. And we have to be poised to respond.
So what are we doing? So during the 2020-21 academic year, and now into the summer, we have a team of individuals that looks at every single COVID case on campus. And we're doing that with an eye towards learning about viral transmission, and most importantly, to determine if there's steps that we can take that would mitigate spread. And a lot of the things that we're doing are an outgrowth of this exercise.
Last year, we decided that our initial means of oversight of our quarantined students wasn't sufficient. And we changed that. We developed our supplementary testing program, which has become really, really valuable. We have instituted adaptive testing. And most importantly, we also developed a contact tracing program that corresponds to what the county does.
So that approach worked well last year, and it's going to be the same approach. And that is we're going to investigate every case. Now, what will we do about it? We don't know yet. And that's part of the challenge. But we met that challenge last year. And I just want everybody to be confident that we're not going to just make assumptions, that we're going to continue to watch the situation and we're going to adapt in the very best way we can.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you so much, Gary. Lisa Nishii, for you, what mitigation measures might we anticipate for increasing safety in classrooms as we approach the date of returning to in-person settings?
LISA NISHII: I think Peter really just captured it all-- the combination of vaccination, testing, and masking. I guess to that I would just add one thing, which is that last year, Dr. Anne Jones, the former medical director of Cornell Health, and I met with faculty whenever there was a positive case and we learned through contact tracing that the student had attended an in-person class. And in all of those conversations, we repeatedly heard faculty say that students were uniformly compliant with the masking requirement. And so I expect that we'll see the same this year.
And the other thing I just wanted to remind people of is that we went through the entire year without a classroom-based transmission, and this is even when people were, for most of the year, not vaccinated. And so I think it helps to put everything in perspective. And like Gary said, if the data that we are looking at very, very closely indicate further measures are necessary, we'll put those measures in place, whether it's in the classroom, outside of the classroom, or both.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Lisa. Marie Opperman, a similar question around increasing safety in offices. Will Environmental Health and Safety, EHS, provide guidance to these offices, many of which haven't been open to the public since March of 2020?
MARY OPPERMAN: Thank you, Joel, and thank you, everyone, for being here. Especially, Peter, thank you to your team and all the work that you've done. It's been incredibly helpful to us.
And so I won't repeat what you've heard before, but we know this. Vaccinations, complying with masks, and using testing are the best mitigation factors that we have. In addition, we are continuing enhanced cleaning of high-touch surfaces, and we've optimized building ventilation by ensuring sufficient fresh air makeup and upgraded filter efficiency where feasible.
Furthermore, as you know, the testing that we will be doing will augment all of this. And as Gary said, our COVID response team remains in place. And then, finally, our facilities and campus service team, together with EH and S, has conducted systematic flushing of low-occupancy buildings to ensure fresh potable water is available.
Just a quick shoutout to the SES and EH and S staff. You often don't see them, but they have been busy throughout, keeping us all safe, and my thanks go to them.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Mary. Gary, back to you. What about individuals who aren't a part of Cornell's highly vaccinated community? What can we do to impact the behavior of those who may not be following the university's guidelines around personal behavior?
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah, sure, Joel, a really, really important question. And I guess there are really two parts to that question. And one part is people coming onto campus who are not part of the Cornell community. But also, we all live in Tompkins County or outside of Tompkins County. We don't spend all of our times on campus. And we're interacting with others.
And Cornell is able to put things into place on campus that will enhance the safety of our community. We put things into place so that there are guidelines for visitors. And those will be continued, and those will always be evaluated, and they will be communicated. But we can't, and we shouldn't, dictate behaviors of members of our community when they're not on campus.
So I think the best I can suggest in response to this question is that we've thought a lot about best practices. We'll urge people to follow those best practices in their private lives. First and foremost-- we say this over and over again, but we can't say it enough-- being vaccinated is the best protection against acquiring and transmitting COVID and keeping ourselves healthy. So for those of you who aren't vaccinated, please reconsider. It's available, and we should do that.
But also, wearing masks when encountering others isn't required in Tompkins County. It's advised in indoor locations. We are requiring it on campus for a very good reason. We might talk a little bit more about that in a few moments. But do it outside of Cornell as well.
Peter mentioned that it may not be likely that at gatherings outside of campus, off of school hours, may not be masked. But perhaps they should be. And a really, really important thing for everybody is that if you feel ill, don't come to work. Don't come to school. Call your health care provider.
Remember that testing is available. If there are concerns, there's supplementary testing-- not if you're symptomatic, but if you're asymptomatic. There are opportunities to protect yourself. And we live in this world. And what Cornell is doing is what we think is our best approach, our most extensive approach, to keep folks safe.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Gary. The next question topic, it's a question of one. It's a single question. It'll be for you, Mike. It's one that a number of our faculty and staff have asked. What would cause us to have to go back to virtual and hybrid instruction along with limited access to campus? And then also the converse-- what would cause us to stop masking indoors and testing vaccinated students and staff?
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: That really relates to our following infection statistics daily, what Gary talked about, in terms of understanding each infection case. We will respond as we did last year to local pockets of infection in appropriate ways to make sure those are controlled. What would cause us to stop doing in-person instruction would be evidence of uncontrolled spread of infection in classrooms, something we didn't see at all last year but we monitored and looked for very, very carefully.
So we'll respond as appropriate. We'll look at data on a daily basis and respond appropriately. That was very effective, where we saw pockets, in terms of tamping them down. On the other side, if these data come back and we see very, very low prevalence, very low spread, we'll consider relaxing our masking guidelines, perhaps relaxing some or spreading out our testing of vaccinated individuals, that sort of thing. But the main thing is the numbers are going to guide us.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Mike. The next set of questions relate to the topic of a vaccine mandate. I'll ask the first three of Mary, and then back to you, Mike, for one as well. Mary, will the university require vaccination as a term of employment or at least require vaccination for all staff, faculty, and students before allowing them to come to campus?
MARY OPPERMAN: Thanks, Joel. Since the start of the pandemic, our approach has been to follow the science, an approach that has served our campus community and the greater Ithaca community quite well. All of our decisions and protocols that we've reviewed today are based on the expert modeling that Peter Frazier and his team continue to run. And as Peter noted earlier, the combination of mandatory vaccines for students and high vaccine rates for staff and faculty, along with our masking and testing protocols, provide substantial protection against infection with the Delta variant.
I also want to say how pleased we are that faculty and staff have overwhelmingly chosen to protect themselves, their loved ones, and our community by getting vaccinated, with a current vaccination rate of 94%. Right now, though, we are working with a very small number of people who still have not responded to the university's requirement that everyone indicate their vaccine status.
It is absolutely essential that every single employee who works on one of our campuses-- actually, every single employee who works for Cornell-- complete that registry. Failing to do so is a violation of a university requirement. If you are one of the small number of people who have not done so, please go into Daily Check and indicate your vaccine status.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Mary. Staying with you, there is someone in my work group that I know is not vaccinated. How should group meetings involving this person be handled?
MARY OPPERMAN: Yes, well, so please remember that we have an indoor mask mandate. So mask up. Set a few chairs at a distance from others, and begin the meeting by reminding those who are not vaccinated to use those chairs.
A few ideas-- if you're having a short meeting indoors, suggest people wait to drink their coffee or water until after the meeting is over. This avoids the donning and doffing off and on of the mask. It increases the safety of the meeting. And be sure that the people follow testing protocols and go to their tests at the frequency required.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you. And one more to you, Mary. As a supervisor, I am really struggling with figuring out how to manage my staff when I don't know who's vaccinated and who's not. The guidance for unvaccinated individuals is that they must maintain distance indoors when possible. How am I supposed to assign tasks when I don't know how to interpret "when possible," and I don't know who on my staff can safely work in close quarters with others?
MARY OPPERMAN: Yeah, we get this question a lot. And I'm really sympathetic to supervisors needing information in order to be able to do their work. But we are not permitted to know or share vaccine status by individual. But we also know we need to provide supervisors with the information that they need to manage their units.
So supervisors will receive information about who is required to be tested and at what frequency. Please be sure to give people the time off they need for the testing. And again, remind everyone to keep their masks on indoors.
I completely understand that there are elements of our guidelines that are hard to follow. This is why each of us needs to understand them and take personal responsibility. At this time, think very carefully before assigning any task-- any group tasks that require very close contact for long periods of time. I know our community is very creative and thoughtful, and there are multiple ways to get the same thing done.
And finally, we have a responsibility to one another. Certainly, supervisors have to do their best to assign work within these safety measures. But each one of us is responsible for our own actions. We each need to own our obligation to ourselves, our family, our friends, and our colleagues.
Wear your masks. Be thoughtful about your interactions. If you are among the few who have not, please reconsider and get vaccinated. Respect the views of others, and avoid unnecessary risks.
JOEL MALINA: Thanks, Mary. And then, Mike, a question that will help us transition to a set of questions around masking. Is there any enforcement of masking for unvaccinated individuals, or are we relying on the honor system?
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Mary touched on this. So first I want to say we do have a mandate for all faculty and staff. And that mandate is to register, to tell us what your vaccination status is. Most employees are vaccinated. There are some that are not. Those, it's very important for us to be able to know that so that we can surveil them, do testing at the appropriate frequency.
So supervisors, as Mary said, will be aware of that information, who is in the mandatory surveillance program, and will be able-- will be in a position to oversee the fact that masking rules are respected and that individuals are up to date on their surveillance tests. And if individuals fall behind on the surveillance tests, that information will be known and will be something that will be acted upon because it's critical for us to maintain that overall vigilance.
JOEL MALINA: Thanks, Mike-- now some other questions focused on the mask mandate. And Gary, I'll start with you. This is a question from one of our employees. Why are we masking? The numbers are still near zero. Our county had one day during which the numbers were higher, and they fell. And there's no data showing community spread at the university. As a university, we should be setting a levelheaded precedent based on data and research, not knee-jerk responses. Gary?
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah, Joel, a really, really important question. And I'll just say that a few weeks ago, we were anticipating not having a mask mandate. And it is clearly disappointing to everybody. But I would counter what the questioner asked, and that is I do think this is levelheaded. I do think that we made this as a deliberate decision.
Peter talked a little bit about it-- I'll just remind everybody-- that our case count isn't zero, isn't near zero, that there are cases on campus. There were weeks when our case was zero, and there were weeks when Tompkins County case counts were close to zero. But that's not the case now, and that's because of the Delta variant.
So what are we doing? Well, we're encouraging vaccination. We're doing more testing that we'll talk about in a moment. But masks make a big difference. We know they make a big difference.
So we just think that this is an essential measure to safeguard the safety of the community. And as Mike just said, we're going to watch. And when it's no longer necessary, we'll make that decision as well.
But I don't want anybody to think that this was capricious, that this was well thought out. And nobody wants to be wearing masks. But we just feel that if we're going to keep our laboratories open, keep in-person education, allowing our community to interact, this becomes an essential part of our safety measures.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Gary. Mary, a question for you. Can we create personal rules regarding masking if we have our own office space, which can include that masks need to be worn inside the office by individuals visiting us? I have a front-facing office but also a child at home that cannot yet be vaccinated. I'd like to protect him from any viral spread that could occur from my returning to work.
MARY OPPERMAN: It's a great question, and I thank whoever sent it in for asking it because the mask mandates have shifted a bit. And so first of all, please go online and read the mask guidelines because the requirement to have on masks is all-inclusive with only a small exception, which is that if you are alone in a private office, you can take off your mask. However, if you are in that private office and someone else comes in, you need to put your mask on, and you need to-- and you need and should remind them that they need to have their mask on as well.
In terms of others who come to your space-- so guests or others-- the mask mandate is inclusive of them as well. If someone refuses to put on their mask, you are not required to serve them, and you should elevate that concern to your supervisor immediately. And if the person does not depart the space, you may depart the space. Put your mask on and leave.
We have not experienced any of that, I have to tell you. People have been really, really good. But if you're worried, please know that we have backups for you. We will support you.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Mary. Mike, back to you. Currently, there is little to no signage at building entrances instructing visitors-- and now students, staff, and faculty-- that masks must be worn indoors regardless of vaccination status. Will the university be providing appropriate signage? What recourse do we have when someone is not complying with the mandate? And will we continue to allow visitors to campus?
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Yeah, the answer to the first question is yes. Signage is going up, and you'll see more of this over the next week. It's also completely appropriate to remind people that you see in any building without a mask, in a public area without a mask, that our requirements, our guidelines, our rules are to wear a mask indoors.
Visitors will be allowed on campus. They are under this mask mandate indoors as well. But we're also now discussing guidelines for the kinds of activities that we're planning for the fall. I did mention tents. We're trying to have as many campus functions outdoors.
But you will see, probably next week, some more guidance around what should be done indoors, things like events, whether eating is appropriate indoors, scale and size of meetings, that sort of thing. Stay tuned.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Mike. Lisa, must students wear masks during class in classrooms? Do instructors have to wear masks during class in classrooms? And will Cornell provide masks for faculty and staff?
LISA NISHII: Yes, students need to wear masks in classrooms. Yes, faculty will also wear masks, although as you'll see in the mask guidelines that I just posted, faculty instructors can wear face shields in lieu of a mask while they're lecturing, although we suggest that after you're done presenting that you switch back to a mask. And of course, when students come down or approach you after class to speak, try to maintain distance to the extent possible.
The university is providing masks. There is a way for you to order them through Eshop. And this link again provides instructions on how to do so.
We've ordered face shields. We have some left from last year. We just put in a big order for some more. Face shields will become available through your local AV teams.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Lisa. Now we're going to move to a set of questions related to surveillance testing. Gary, the first few to you. Will students be tested for COVID-19 as they arrive in Ithaca for the semester?
GARY KORETZKY: Yes, and we will be testing every nonvaccinated student upon arrival. We ask those students to be very careful while we're awaiting the result of that test, and the result should be known within 24 hours.
We're also going to be enrolling many, many vaccinated students into surveillance testing. They will be tested once a week. They won't have an arrival test, but as soon as they arrive, they'll be enrolled in surveillance testing. Those will be all of our undergraduates, our professional students, and all of our nonvaccinated undergraduates once they-- and all students. Actually, everybody in the community will be tested through surveillance testing twice a week.
Now, I just want to make a point about this. We tested up to close to 50,000 individuals a week last year, and we were geared up to do that. We anticipated that we would be testing about 5,000 a week when we were projecting for the fall. That number is no longer the case. It's going to be closer to 25,000 a week with the testing that we're going to be putting into place.
And for that reason, we really ask everybody to think carefully about when you get tested. Use morning appointments as well as afternoon appointments. We were really effective at avoiding lines. We're trying very hard to do that. There's going to be a rampup.
And so we want everybody to work with us and be as patient as possible because the testing that we need to do now is greater than what we anticipated. We're going to do it. But we have to roll that up.
JOEL MALINA: Gary, related-- will faculty and staff still be able to request supplemental testing?
GARY KORETZKY: Absolutely. Anybody on the Cornell campus will be able to get a supplemental test. You can schedule that through the Daily Check. I'll also mention that we're going to be asking pockets of fac-- of staff to do surveillance testing even if they're vaccinated. And the reason for that is just as Peter described. I won't go through all of this.
Actually, there will be a communication that will be sent out that we'll talk about all of our testing, the rationale behind it, and what people can expect. Additionally, individuals can opt in to weekly surveillance testing even if they're vaccinated. So if you're not mandated for that, there'll be an opt-in opportunity. Again, we're going to be rolling this out, and this will be made more clear in a communication to the campus.
JOEL MALINA: And Gary, is the university considering a testing protocol for faculty and staff who have to leave the Ithaca area for business travel?
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah, so we're not restricting travel as we did last year. We won't even know about travel, because individuals will be traveling as they think is safe. Supplemental testing will be available so that if somebody travels and comes back-- again, if you're not symptomatic, you can avail yourself of the supplemental testing program. That will remain available.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you. And Mike, with the Statler Hotel back open to the public, how will student quarantine be handled if there is a COVID cluster?
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Great question. Students who test positive for COVID will be isolated in Balch Hall. We have a number of rooms, and we've-- Student and Campus Life and Ryan's Group and Pat Wynn have really responded with an effective plan for isolating positive students. We've worked closely with Tompkins County Health Department on this plan, and we feel that we're well prepared for that.
What's different from last year is there's no requirement to quarantine vaccinated contacts of a positive. So we expect to have very few students, of which roughly close to 100% will be vaccinated, actually being in quarantine. And that's a big difference from last year. We will, as Gary said, however, be testing those close contacts and trying to seek out any of the individuals that are positive and isolate them immediately in Balch Hall.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you. And Lisa, what happens if students are placed into quarantine? Is the expectation that faculty will be prepared to have students Zoom into any class lecture or seminar? And is the university prepared to provide additional IT support and technology to make that possible?
LISA NISHII: So like last year, students will have the option of receiving a temporary accommodation through Student Disability Services. They can also decline that if they'd like. Instructors are expected to accommodate students with temporary accommodations. They'll need flexibility in attendance and perhaps other assignments and exams.
But in terms of helping them keep up with coursework, there are so many different ways to do this. And remember, we always did this pre-COVID as well. And there are a lot of effective low-tech ways of doing this. And what we ask is for faculty to use their good judgment in deciding the most appropriate way to help students.
There is no expectation that faculty provide a Zoom option for students who are in isolation or mandatory quarantine. And in fact, in many of our classrooms this won't even be possible. A lot of our rooms are not Zoom-enabled. I'll put a link in the chat that outlines some options for you to consider different technology-enabled ways to support students.
And your college AV teams are prepared to consult and to provide support-- actually, I should clarify-- the AV teams associated with the classroom in which you're teaching. And I'll also provide a link for how to find the AV team contact information.
JOEL MALINA: Lisa, another question for you about office hours. I have a very small office without windows where it's impossible to keep distance from students and change air frequently. Can I organize office hours via Zoom instead of in person?
LISA NISHII: Sure. I hope that what Peter shared earlier will help people feel more comfortable. I would say that one option to consider is maybe reserving a local conference room to be able to hold some office hours in person. I know that some faculty felt that Zoom office hours were really effective last year. We just ask that, to every extent possible, you don't do all Zoom, that you find a way to also have some in-person office hours.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you. And our last set of questions-- we have just a few minutes left. I think we can get to both of these. This is on the topic of in-person gatherings and events, one for Mike, and then, Gary, one for you.
Mike, will the university be allowing or encouraging public events on campus this semester? What would you recommend for programs and departments that normally host events open to both the Cornell community and the wider public?
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Yeah, more to come on this. As I said, we're certainly planning on limiting events, and we're working on guidelines for that currently. An important part of this is limiting, particularly, indoor events of a certain size, and particularly, where food is served. So as I said, please expect some guidelines coming out next week around those events.
And as you're thinking about planning events, one of the things-- colleges will be setting up tents. Each college will have a tent. We will have some other centralized tents that will be available to program these events.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you. And Gary, last question to you. It has to do with food. What is the guidance for gatherings with food? Can we have gatherings with food if people are social distancing while eating?
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah, so again, this is very consistent with what Mike was saying, and that is that all of this is a work in progress. Right now, in the near term, my encouragement is that if there's a gathering that will have food, have it outside. The tents will be available soon. We're hopeful that the fall will be like it was last year where we can extend this into the fall.
And so if there is no way around it and you need-- if there's food inside, avoid buffets. Avoid food stations you know. People have made good use of grab-and-go prepared foods where you can take the food and then you can be distanced appropriately.
So there isn't a hard and fast rule right now. Please use really good judgment. Remember what we did last year and try to emulate that as much as possible. Of course, dining halls will be open. There are a lot of questions that we're going to have to be addressing and thinking about the best way to do it.
Again, this wasn't anticipated just a few weeks ago. We're going to adapt, and there'll be guidance. But for now, the recommendation is, when you have food, to try as hard as you can to have the event outside.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Gary. And with that, let me thank our panelists and then extend a very large and appreciative thank you to all of you who have been with us for this last hour. We will look forward to continuing to engage with each of you. As has been noted, expect additional communications over the coming weeks. And thanks for everything that you're doing to help keep our campus community and the wider community as safe as possible. Have a good day.
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Faculty and staff gathered virtually on August 11, 2021, to get information on the upcoming Fall semester.