[AUDIO LOGO] MARTHA POLLACK: Hello and welcome. I want to wish all of you a very happy new year. And I want to add a wish, that as the year unfolds, it becomes less challenging than the previous two have been. That said, it's true that we're all here on Zoom because it seems like every time we think that we're just about to turn the corner with this pandemic, the virus essentially laughs at us. But even though the past few weeks may have felt like March of 2020 all over again, in fact, we're in a very different place than we were then.
Now, as we deal with this pandemic, Cornell has followed the science. We did so in the fall of 2020 when we brought students back to campus safely and successfully, adopting strict masking, testing, and behavioral policies. We did so just last month, when our advanced surveillance testing and modeling allowed us to be one of the first locations in the United States to demonstrate the speed at which the Omicron variant is able to race through fully-vaccinated populations. And we do so now, with a plan for the spring of 2020 that has us learning to live with the inevitable viral spread among a fully-vaccinated and boosted campus population.
And I want to stress that word, "inevitable," because the situation has changed over time. And we now know that we are not going to be able to eliminate the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In the coming weeks and months, we are inevitably going to have continued cases of Omicron around the world and here at Cornell. And it seems almost certain that COVID-19 will continue to exist in one form or another more or less permanently.
But importantly, in contrast to March of 2020, we now have tools to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, most notably vaccination, as well as emerging new drugs that can be used to treat infection. Additionally, there is strong and growing scientific evidence that Omicron poses a lesser health risk than did prior variants, especially among fully-vaccinated and boosted populations, like ours at Cornell, where it predominantly causes asymptomatic or relatively mild illness.
All that said, we recognize our responsibility to do what we can to protect vulnerable individuals among our campus community and in the greater Ithaca community. Thus, going forward, we will focus on preventing serious illness, while mitigating the spread of the virus to the extent feasible. Our focus needs to shift from counting cases to minimizing serious illness.
And we have another responsibility as well, to provide the best possible educational experience for our students. Our students thrive in the world-class residential education that we provide. So those are our goals-- strive to prevent serious illness in the community while providing our students with the best possible residential experience, all while recognizing that the world is shifting from a pandemic to an endemic situation with COVID-19.
And it's towards those goals that we will be taking on the various steps that were outlined in yesterday's message, notably including pre-arrival and on-arrival testing for students, staggering their return to campus, and having virtual instruction for the first two weeks of the semester. And I want to make sure that people understand that these steps are intended in large part to minimize academic disruption for our students, so that, for example, students who test positive can delay their return while learning remotely. And remote learning can also do other things if we have it for a couple of weeks, like provide a backstop for students, especially international students, who may experience delays in travel if the current flight cancellations that we're now seeing continue.
Our modeling tells us, unfortunately, to expect a very large number of COVID cases early in the semester among returning students, maybe as many as 2,000 or even more. And that is a large number. But the modeling also predicts very little serious disease across faculty, staff, and students throughout the semester if we take the steps that we laid out in our message and that the provost will review shortly.
So again, we want to minimize serious disease. We want to be able to facilitate isolation for students, because we know that that is still required by the state. And we want to provide the best possible educational experience for our students. There's no perfect solution. But these steps will help protect Cornellians and the surrounding community while enabling our students to have that experience.
I know the challenges can continue. Like all of you, I wish more than anything that this pandemic would just disappear that we'd wake up and it was all a dream. But that's not going to happen. What I do know is, as we've done in the past, working together, we're going to get through all of this. So let me now turn things over to our provost, Mike Kotlikoff, who will provide a little more detail on the plans.
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Good afternoon, everyone. And thanks, Martha. So I'm going to walk through our plans in a little bit more detail. I just want to repeat what Martha said, that first we have two goals with these plans-- first, minimize the risk of serious disease to our community, but secondly and also very importantly, to preserve academic continuity and the residential educational experience for our students.
So I'll just start with a couple general comments about current conditions. First, by mandating vaccination and booster shots in our community, we've markedly reduced the risk of serious disease, as Martha has said. So we're in a better place than most areas of the country.
However, we will have more infections on campus than in previous semesters because the Omicron variant is so infectious. At the same time, as Martha indicated, modeling suggests we're likely to have very little significant disease associated with these infections. Of course, we wish there were no disease. But that's simply not possible. As a data point here, I would point to the fact that of our experience over the last semester, where we were mainly dealing with a somewhat more pathogenic Delta variant, despite over 1,000 infections in December alone, there was not a single student who required hospitalization admission throughout the entire fall semester. We were dealing mainly with individuals who had mild symptoms or were asymptomatic.
A major focus of our plan will be meeting our mandated responsibility to isolate infected students in our residence halls and to support them during that isolation. We saw in December that this can be very challenging. We were almost overwhelmed in terms of hospital rooms and the ability to support our students in December. So much of our plan is focused on avoiding that situation.
The greatest challenge will be at the beginning of the semester. As Professor Peter Frazier's modeling shows, we'll have the greatest number of positive cases. So let me walk through the details of the plan. And there's a few more details here than were in the message that you got last evening.
So we'll start the semester with virtual instruction from January 24 through February 4. This gives us a critical period for students to isolate safely without missing class and maintaining, obviously, academic continuity. It also allows for a staggered start to the campus repopulation, making it more feasible to manage the isolation over that period of time as students come back positive. Our peers have found, who are starting earlier, have found numbers, for example, up to 6% of students coming back positive.
Also during the online period, we will make rooms available for students to get online in classrooms. And also we'll have the library open, although it'll be dedensified. And we'll provide grab-and-go for our students, all of this to try and minimize the spread of infection.
And then one other thing that we're implementing this semester, and that is all students, as well as faculty and staff, who've recently tested positive outside of Cornell's own system will be able to indicate their status on the Daily Check. This makes them nonaction positives, or NAPs, as we call them, and exempts them from testing and isolation for 90 days per New York State Health Department instructions.
Now, to the restart of campus, we'll require that all students living in the dorms submit a negative antigen test prior to departure for Ithaca. So no student should enter a dorm room without having tested negative with an antigen test within 24 hours of departure to Ithaca. This is very important because it will allow students who have become positive to remain in place, isolate for five days in place, and then come to occupy their dorm room. And that allows them to continue their academic progress while they're at home.
In addition, we'll have students test immediately upon arrival, also with an antigen test in the dorms. As approved by Tompkins County and New York State Health Departments, we'll isolate these individuals now for five days. But students who occupy dorms will be given an antigen test and be able to immediately either go into their room or start their isolation. And in some cases, those will be in single dorm rooms.
Students who live off campus will also be required to test both before their return to campus and upon arrival. If they test positive after arrival, they'll be isolated in their residence. We'll also provide those students with antigen tests upon their request. And then after this arrival entry testing, we'll also test all undergraduate students twice weekly, so intensive tests during this period where we expect most of the infections to try and identify individuals quickly and prevent the spread of Omicron or COVID-19 as much as possible in this critical early phase.
Also during this phase, we'll make use of the Statler Hotel. But this time, we'll use it to house students who are negative, who test negative, but are rooming with a positive student. This will allow us to have more of our students isolate in dorms where they're much more easily supported and provided food, et cetera. So other things remain as they have in the past. All unvaccinated members of the community who have an approved vaccine exemption will continue to be in surveillance testing twice weekly.
Once students arrive, there will be a moratorium on student events during the online period. And we will appeal to the community during this critical phase of re-entry to work together to lower the risk of rapid spread. We'll appeal to our students to reduce, to eliminate any social events or gatherings. And we'll limit any other formal events during that period of time.
And then we'll put in place additional safety measures for faculty and staff. And this is critical. We will have supplemental testing for any student any student, faculty, or staff member who wants to be tested during the semester. We'll also make antigen tests available for rapid diagnosis for those individuals who are symptomatic or concerned about potential exposure.
The university, as we said in our message yesterday, will provide high-quality masks. We're procuring them now and encourage their use. Evidence indicates that these are far more effective in preventing spread of Omicron than cloth masks. And we will ask our students to wear these masks in the classroom.
So as in the past, we've relied on the latest scientific data on Omicron to fashion a plan with the best chance of mounting a successful academic term. Conditions change, however. And we will change with them. We'll continue to monitor the situation and respond to data.
I want to, before my final comments, I just want to especially thank many, many faculty and staff who've been involved in working out this plan and who will be involved in implementing the plan and its many, many details. I want to thank Gary Koretzky, who's on this town hall, also Peter Frazier, Lisa Nishii, David Shmoys, Pat Wynn, Tim Fitzpatrick, Sharon McMullen, Shannon Osburn, and many, many other faculty and staff that I haven't had a chance to thank. They have been really key in working very hard over the last weeks.
So finally, let me just come back to the original goals. That is to protect our community and to continue the academic progress for our students, to continue to teach our students. I get many, many emails from students, from parents, from faculty and staff. Some of these, mostly from students and parents, ask me why the university is disrupting their education and not treating COVID-19 as a minor endemic disease. Others express anxiety and fear about coming to work or going into the class and ask why the university is not going fully online.
We can't, on the one hand, ignore the reality of this disease and its risk. Nor can we create a world of zero risk, where continuing to teach our students and doing research is eliminated. I believe that the plan that we've put in place is the right solution to a very, very difficult set of conditions. And I want to thank all of you in advance for working together to help us pull it off. And now back to you, Avery.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you, Mike and Martha. And thank you all for joining us. And thank you for submitting your questions for this town hall. There were many questions that were submitted. And we won't be able to get to all of them. However, we'll try to answer, address those questions that many of you are interested in.
And so the first question I will ask is to Gary Koretzky, which is why is the arrival testing using antigen tests rather than a PCR test? Can you describe the difference to us?
GARY KORETZKY: Sure. Thanks, Avery. And thank all of you for being here. Before I answer your question, Avery, I do just want to make one correction. I think Mike misspoke. It's not often I get to correct the provost in public like this. Mike mentioned at the end of December, we were challenged. And that's very much the case.
He did say that we were challenged with hospital space. It was hotel space. And that's a really big difference, because as all of you know, one of the fundamental things that we think about is how our local health-care system is doing. And I'm really pleased to report that in conversations that I have on a regular basis with the head of the Health Department, Frank Kruppa, and with the CEO of Cayuga Medical Center, they feel very, very comfortable right now that the burden of COVID in the health-care system in Tompkins County is very, very manageable.
Like everywhere, there are staffing shortages. And people are working really hard. But they are very, very comfortable with us and our plan. Our plan has been discussed with them. And they're very comfortable with the return of our students and the beginning of our academic semester. So a real, real important thing.
So Avery asked about antigen testing. And one of the features of Omicron is how quickly it spreads. And one of the things that we learned, and we learned this in December, is that the group of individuals where Omicron spreads the most quickly is our undergraduate population, and in particular our on-campus population. These are individuals who live closely together. They room together. They eat together.
And we're going to be bringing back large numbers of students to campus. We want to avoid as much as possible bringing back students who are COVID positive. We're asking all of our students before they leave to return to Ithaca to do a test. And we will be sending antigen tests to the undergraduates so they can do it in the day before that they leave. If, unfortunately, they discover that they're positive, they'll get the result immediately.
And that's a big difference between PCR testing and antigen testing. And that's the rapidity of knowing the result. The sensitivity is greater with PCR testing. However, the rapidity is really critical.
When we bring students back to campus, especially those who are living in on-campus residence halls, again, we want to do antigen testing because we'll get the result in moments. If the student comes back, they're ready to move into their dorm room, they pick up their antigen test kit, they're positive, they won't be housed in their dorm room unless it's a single room, as Mike described. And we'll be able to manage their isolation before they've had an opportunity to transmit the disease.
Now, he did say that antigen testing is less sensitive. As a result, that's one of the reasons why we're doing multiple tests. So these students will be tested before they leave. They'll be tested upon arrival. And then they'll be tested twice a week until we're confident that we've really been able to diminish the inevitable, Martha's word, spread or importation of COVID. So we think that antigen testing, when used strategically, becomes a very, very valuable tool that we'll have.
AVERY AUGUST: Thanks, Gary. That was very helpful. While we're on masks and arrival, the university has changed its recommended policy on mask wearing. There are many, many questions. The majority of questions are around the different types of masks and cloth versus KN95s. Can you tell us more about the different masks and their use, Gary?
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah, sure. Thanks, Avery. And again, this gets confusing because there are so many different things that one can find online and in different publications. So what Cornell's goal, like I think everybody who is recommending or requiring masks, is to limit the spread of the virus. And that's limiting spread both from the person who has the virus out and the spread of the virus from somebody who is now virus naive and they're concern about whether or not they would acquire the virus if it's in the environment.
We've learned a lot about masks. We've learned that they really matter. And so one of the guidelines that we're going to be presenting in the coming semester will be to continue to have our mask policy for on-campus, in buildings. Except when you're outside and not in a group, everybody is expected to wear a mask.
The expectation is that those won't be cloth masks. And the reason why is that cloth masks are just not as effective at preventing particles. Cloth masks are not regulated in any way. So if you purchase a cloth mask, you won't know what the quality of that mask is. So we're strongly, strongly recommending no longer using cloth masks.
I'll tell you that there will be a lot of information about the different types of masks. You heard about them-- N95s, KN95s, KN94s. They're all different based upon the materials, whether they're paper or whether they're fiber, what the pore size is that will allow or not allow particles in, how well they filter, how long they last. And so I'm not going to go through all of that now, but to just tell you that there's going to be a complete description of this for everybody to read on the website.
Most importantly, what we've decided to do is ensure that everybody on campus has high-quality masks. And these are not cloth masks. These will be masks that are determined to be really sufficient quality so that they will confer the protection that we need, and in particular on campus, in classrooms.
So as Mike mentioned that, we're really going to encourage students to be wearing these high-quality masks in the classroom. We know that there are issues with being able to teach wearing an N95 or KN95. Those will all be conversations that we'll continue to have. And there will be very, very clear guidance that will be provided on the website.
So Avery, I know it's a complicated topic. I know there's a lot of interest. Most important points, we will be providing high-quality masks to our community. We will be providing a lot of information about masks. People will make personal choices, but we really recommend against cloth masks.
AVERY AUGUST: Thanks, Gary. That was helpful. And I expect that we'll see a lot more on the website. The next question is from Mary Opperman, vice president for human resources. Mary, the question from the community is will staff have the option to work remotely until classes return to in-person instruction?
MARY OPPERMAN: Thanks, Avery. And happy 2022 for all of you. And I think we can all agree with Martha. This isn't how we wanted to start the year. But we're lucky to be in a community that is trying so hard to do the right thing. So thank you to all of you for everything that you've been doing in a changing circumstance, trying to understand it. And being here today is a part of that.
So I've gotten a number of questions about this because we did note yesterday that where possible, we are asking supervisors to allow people to continue to work if they can fully perform their duties at home through the coming week. And that has prompted questions about continuing to work remotely if possible. So this is the same as we have been before. People have different jobs. Just a reminder to all of us, many, many of our staff have been working on campus all along, and they have continued to do that.
If you believe that your work can be sufficiently accomplished at home, speak to your supervisor about that. But while the students will be coming back a little bit later, many of our preparations for their return begin very soon. And so this is an important dialogue to have with your supervisor about your work and how best to accomplish it.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you, Mary. The next question-- yes, go ahead. Gary.
GARY KORETZKY: Can I just add one thing to Mary's comments? And because there were a lot of questions that did come, I've seen some of the questions that have come through about testing before returning to work. And we do want all of the people, all of our staff, all of our faculty as they come back to work to test. If you're able to test before you start your return to campus, testing is going to be available starting this Monday, seven days a week.
This weekend there's no testing. But starting Monday you'll be able to test seven days a week. So if you know you're coming back on Thursday or Friday, if you get tested on Monday, that would be great. If you can't get tested before you come back, please get tested the day you come back. And then be particularly careful. And the result would be coming back in the next day and a half or so.
And so we do want to make sure that everybody knows that that testing through Supplemental Testing is available to everybody. And we encourage you to take advantage of that. Sorry, Avery. Please, back to you.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you. Thank you, Gary. So there are many questions on testing. And I will come back to that, one of which is a question to Mike. Does Cornell have access to supplies of antigen tests, sufficient supplies of antigen tests to provide the community as needed?
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Yes. Thanks, Avery. We've acquired many, many of these antigen tests. And we have access to more if they need them. We've committed to send these to our students. And, as we've mentioned, we'll be using these, deploying these particularly in situations in which we want to know very quickly if somebody is infected or not. So this, particularly this phase of testing for students, where we do twice a week for undergraduate students in the dorms, we'll be using antigen tests for that.
These tests are very similar. For those of you who've done Cornell CCTL testing, you basically take a swab. Swab the front of each nostril, just like you do in the CCTL stations, and mix it with a little solution and put it on the test. Very easy. Within 15 minutes, you know if you're positive or not. And so yes, we have enough of those.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you. The next question goes back to Gary, again, around testing. If someone recently recovered from COVID-19, must they do a PCR test before returning to campus?
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah, thanks for that really important question, Avery. And the answer is no. So if you have tested, if you have been positive for COVID and then you've completed your mandatory isolation period, which until very recently was 10 days and is now five days, you are then exempted from testing for 90 days. In fact, that is so important that if you try to test through our system, through the Cornell system, starting just this week, we have put in a process so that you won't even be able to register for a test. And so if you try to register for a test and it doesn't work, you'll be reminded that you were positive within the past 90 days.
And the reason for that is that the PCR test is not useful if you've been tested-- if you've been positive within the past 90 days because there is often residual nucleic acid from the virus. So even though you're not sick, you're not infectious, you're not infected, the test is so sensitive that you may still test as positive. So again, if you've tested positive within 90 days after your isolation period, there's no need to test. And there won't be any mandatory isolation.
In fact, if you test positive, we actually added one more thing to the Daily Check. I think it will be available tonight. You'll be able to report that you tested positive with a home test. So that wouldn't go through the Health Department. It wouldn't be through our testing.
But you can inform us that you tested positive. Tell us the date. Tell us how you were tested and where you were tested. And then you will then be exempted for 90 days as well. So a real important tool for everybody to keep in mind.
AVERY AUGUST: Thanks, Gary. The next question, many questions on spring break. And so the question is for Mike. What do we do about spring break?
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Yeah, we watch the data, Avery. We're going to look very carefully to see how we manage this process through the re-entry for the beginning of the spring term. And we're going to watch very carefully our isolation process and, as Gary mentioned, make sure that we have enough hotel spaces, not hospital spaces.
And then we're going to craft our plan for the spring in the same way for the-- after spring break in the same way that we've crafted the plan for the start of the spring semester. One of the things we'll be looking at is how many people are positive? How many people are no-action positives, as Gary has? Described how many people have gotten COVID and are no longer at risk or need of isolation?
And so more to come on that. And I think the major thing is that if we need to do the kind of re-entry that we're doing now, we'll be prepared to do it.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you, Mike. The next question is for Mary around remote work. Someone who's a designated worker that only needs to be on campus on an as-needed basis, typically a month or less, will the need to test prior to coming to the campus be reviewed and based on the COVID environment and the community?
MARY OPPERMAN: So all of our policies and procedures are reviewed on a regular basis based on what we're seeing in the data. So the answer to the question of will we be reviewing our requirement to test before coming to campus is yes. But for now, you should plan to get a test before you come to campus. It is a safety measure. It's easy to do. If you have no symptoms, you can go right to one of our test sites or you can get an at-home test. And that way you know that when you're coming onto campus, you are not bringing any virus with you. And if things change, of course, we'll let you know.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you, Mary. The next question is for Mike. So the students are coming back gradually. There are some students who work as undergraduate researchers. Will they be allowed back into research labs?
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Yes. Under the safe conditions that we've described, those students will be 2x tested, twice a week tested for the beginning of the semester. We've already, over this period, we've approved students in research labs. And those can operate safely.
I do want to emphasize one other thing. And this relates to Mary's comment. Anyone who tests positive, any faculty or staff who test positive outside of our system through a home antigen test, we need you to upload that test into our Daily Check. That's the system that Gary described.
It's really, really important. That tells us who's infected, who's been infected in our community. And it isn't captured if you do it by yourself. It's not captured the way it is throughout the Cornell system.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you, Mike. So let's turn to travel over this period. This question is for Gary. There are a number of questions around visitors to the campus, around faculty interviews, around company recruiters, graduate student interviews. What is the policy for this period?
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah, so, Avery, complicated and really important. And maybe I'll just go back to the principles that Martha and Mike articulated at the very beginning. Our goal is to minimize the amount of significant disease. And our second goal and our second responsibility is to have as normal an academic experience for our students, as normal as possible, and for our faculty and for our staff to really do whatever we possibly can so that we meet our missions.
And so let me just take your question, Avery, in a few parts. Right, so one part is bringing invited speakers who have been invited to come to campus to campus. We have a policy in place. It was established in the fall. We do want our visitors to be vaccinated or tested. And there's a mechanism to do that. And right now, it doesn't seem like there's any reason to change that.
Of course, we're going to watch the conditions, just as Mike and Martha have said, that we're learning from our own experience and we're watching conditions as they evolve. But that doesn't seem to pose an undue risk. And it's really important for the academic mission.
We do think some casual visitors to the libraries, to the art museum, those should be curtailed during this period of time when we have online education, when we're bringing all of our students back. But if there were visitors that were planning to come to interview at Cornell, to give a seminar in the first week of February, we certainly don't want those to be changed unless there's another reason to do so. We will have an update on the visitor policy that's on the website. I'll say for now, the way we're thinking about visitors is that when they're really important for the academic mission, that those are visits that should be done carefully, but that should certainly be allowed.
There is one special case that I think we need to think about, because it's coming up right now. And that is, what can we do about graduate students, graduate student applicants, students who have applied to Cornell? We're excited about bringing them to Cornell. And part of the way to attract them to come to Cornell is by having an opportunity to visit the beautiful campus, to meet people, and be here in-person.
The strong recommendation right now, and I think that Kathryn Boor, who is the dean of the Graduate School, has really-- is going to be working with all of the fields around this, is that we don't bring students back during this period when we're online, during our extended arrival period. After that, we should do it really, really cautiously. It's probably better to do things virtually if possible. But I think that as we begin to gain more experience over this entry period and the beginning of the semester, we'll have much, much better sense of how that will transpire.
So for the first few weeks, the strong recommendation is not to bring graduate school candidates here, even-- these are large groups of people that come together. They're themselves undergraduates from their own institutions. We would like to have a little bit of time and then revisit that over the next week or so.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you, Gary. That's very helpful. Speaking of masks, there are a number of questions around how do we ensure that the masks, mask wearing will be compliant? The question is for you, Mike. What's the policy on ensuring that mask wearing is compliant?
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Well, we've mandated mask wearing with indoors and outside within groups. And we have a process in which we're all responsible for making sure that individuals comply with that. And if we see people not complying, I know Martha has done this in the past. I've done this in the past, tell students or others to put their masks on.
I think the question may be around cloth masks versus paper masks, not sure. But we have strongly urged-- we have not required that individuals wear KN95s or N95s. We have strongly encouraged that. And we strongly encourage students to do this in the classroom.
I fully expect students to comply largely with that request. And we'll do a lot to communicate that expectation and that message. But I have to be frank, we're not setting up a policing system that goes after individuals and sets up a mask police.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you, Mike. This next question is for Mary. If someone is too ill-- and there's also questions around individuals who have symptoms-- to handle working remotely, do they get additional covered time off for this?
MARY OPPERMAN: Yeah, so if a person has tested positive for COVID, they have up to 10 days of paid time off, not using their approved banks, to recover. So the answer is yes, they do. That's not a new policy. That's the one that's been in place. So they should, if they are working remotely and they are testing positive and they feel that they can't, as they would in any other circumstance, they need to let their supervisor know that they cannot continue to work. And that time off will be considered pandemic paid time off.
AVERY AUGUST: Thanks, Mary. So Gary, coming back to this question around visitors, there's additional questions in the chat and online around what happens if there is a visitor who comes and tests positive upon their arrival in Ithaca?
GARY KORETZKY: Oh, well, certainly if an individual tests positive when they arrive in Ithaca, they will be required to isolate. That is a Tompkins County Health, New York State Health requirement. If they travel to Ithaca in a private car, I'm sure that conversations with the Health Department would allow them to go home in their private car.
But there would have to be a mechanism that would be in place for that visitor to be able to isolate. We have no jurisdiction over that. Cornell has no control over that, that right now if an individual in New York State tests positive for COVID, there are prescribed things that are required.
So that individual, we would work with the Health Department. We would work very closely with the department that was hosting the visit to make sure things can be done safely and appropriately. But that will not be a Cornell policy. That will be our complying completely with the local regulations.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you, Gary. There are a number of questions coming in. I'm trying to see if I can address the ones that are coming in live as well as the one that was submitted. So there are questions, many questions around the lecturing in classrooms. And so this is a question for Mike. What is the policy for lecturing in the classrooms once we are back in-person with regards to mask wearing?
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: The policy will remain the same. Students will be required to wear masks. Faculty will be required to wear masks. As I say, we will upgrade that by providing and urging individuals to wear high-quality masks during that period of time.
I do think that I'll go back a bit to Gary's point around what we're really trying to do in the spring phase to address Omicron, the biggest risk that we face right now is around the disruption of students who need to be isolated after this online phase. During the online phase, obviously, they, like everybody else, can continue their studies online. After that, the real risk is we have so many students in isolation that we really, all of these students are missing significant portions of their academic term. That's what we're trying to avoid.
And what we're trying to provide those students is as much direct person-to-person lecture activity and normal pedagogy as possible. So during that period of time, we're going to try everything that we can to maintain the safety of that activity and to continue to provide that for our students.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you, Mike. Next question is for Mary. Would staff, return testing required, will travel to and from be covered as work time for those who are remote or not here on all days?
MARY OPPERMAN: Yeah, thanks for the question. So let me ask let me answer the question that was asked and then the question behind that question. So if you are on a scheduled workday, remote, then you're already being paid. Schedule your test during your workday and come and get your test.
As Gary said, pretty soon you will have seven days to choose from. And so you should be able to find a day at a time that is during your regular schedule. However, if you are remote and far away and your preference is to wait until you come here before you test, then as Gary said, you can test as soon as you get here. But please, be super duper cautious about your mask wearing until you receive your results. But our preference is that you make time during your scheduled work hours and come in and get your test prior to the time that you're coming onto campus.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you, Mary. So I know we're getting close to the time with you. And I'm trying to get to questions that are being posted on the chat, as well as those that were posted, submitted prior. This question is for Gary, the question following up on the testing. What is the window of time within which the test needs to come back for them to be able to come back to campus?
GARY KORETZKY: Right, so for our students, again, I can't emphasize enough how important it is that students who are not currently in Ithaca to test before they leave for Ithaca. I'll just even mention one other thing. Probably nationally, I don't know about every state, but the isolation period is probably now five days. So our students should really test five days before they're planning to come back to Ithaca.
They might be surprised and discover they're positive. They can complete their isolation. And then they'll be one of our no-action positives. They'll be able to leave and come back to Ithaca on schedule. We want them to, at the very least, test the day before they come so they get that result. They should be able to do this with a rapid test, get that result so that they don't leave for Ithaca only to discover later that they're positive.
For students who are currently in Ithaca, we're really considering arrival has happened, that we would like them to test over the next week or so, certainly before they start on-campus activities. And then for our faculty and staff, I think we've talked about this already, and Mary really provided a lot of information. Please test if possible before you're planning to come back. Otherwise, test as soon as you come back and be particularly cautious, really, really careful about mask wearing and distancing as much as possible. Don't have meals with others until you know the result of that test.
AVERY AUGUST: Thanks. And then--
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Avery, if I could just add--
AVERY AUGUST: Sorry, go ahead.
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: If I could just add one thing-- sorry, Avery. So Gary mentioned testing five days before leaving. And that's great. That's an option. But what is really critical is testing within, for students, and if you're advising students, to test within 24 hours of departure to Ithaca, because, of course, you could be negative five days before and then positive 24 hours before. That is so critical for us to not have that group of students come back and be positive and immediately need to be isolated.
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah, absolutely, Mike. If I misspoke, the five days before is a bonus.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you both. There are a number of questions around the vaccines and boosters. Gary, can you share some more information on that?
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah, I read a lot of the questions as well. And I'll just mention, right, that there are ways that one can become immune to COVID. One way is to get vaccinated. And full vaccination, as you know, is one Johnson & Johnson or two of the mRNA vaccines.
Another way is to actually get COVID. If you have COVID, you do have some degree of immunity. And then the other way to become immune to and protected against COVID is by being fully vaccinated and then having a booster. There's a lot of data now. And the data strongly, strongly tell us that having COVID and having natural immunity does provide some protection, but not that much.
Having two doses of an mRNA vaccine gives you some protection. And, in fact, that gives you about, even though these vaccines were not developed against Omicron, it gives you about 30% protection from getting infected with Omicron. The booster makes that 70%. That's a huge difference. It makes a big, big difference for whether or not you're going to become infected.
Now, 70% isn't 100%. So there are people that have been vaccinated and boosted who will still get Omicron. We know that amongst our own community. But the protection against hospitalization is incredibly important.
So still, and these data, I think, were reported from the very beginning of the period of time after people were fully vaccinated, is that when you look at hospitalizations, in particular when you look at ICU admissions and when you look at deaths from COVID, they are markedly skewed towards people that are not vaccinated. And they're markedly skewed in the other direction for people that are vaccinated and boosted. So even if you've had COVID, even if you've had two doses of a vaccine, the booster matters. It matters a lot. It matters in both infectivity, but also outcomes.
So that is the rationale why Cornell has put in the policy of mandating boosters. We're not alone. Many of our peer institutions, most of our peer institutions have done exactly the same thing for exactly the same reason.
AVERY AUGUST: Thanks, Gary. That's helpful. I want to remind everyone that we will be putting up a website with lots of additional and detailed information about masks, the type of masks, how to wear them. There are lots of questions around masks, as well as the vaccine and the efficacy of the boosters. So we have a few more minutes remaining with you. I want to turn to Mike on testing.
One of the questions that came from the audience is, what if there are no rapid tests in the pharmacies, et cetera? There are lots of shortages being experienced around the country. Is Cornell able to provide tests?
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Yeah, we, as I said, we've procured a number of tests. We want to use these strategically. We will be able to provide antigen tests on a limited basis to faculty and staff, particularly if there is a risk of exposure, if you have immediate risk of exposure, if you're having symptoms and in need an immediate answer. But we really need to preserve as many of these tests as possible for this process of limiting the spread within our student body, which is our biggest risk.
So we do have supplemental tests. You can go in and get a PCR and get that result back in a day or slightly more. And we urge you to use that method as the most effective way to ensure that you're negative over time. But we will have some tests available under circumstances where there is risk and the need for an immediate answer.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you, Mike. So there are questions around this interim period. What conditions, if any, would cause virtual instruction to be extended? Or what policies do you think we'll be applying there?
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Yeah, and let me take that one. I think the fundamental issue there is preservation of academic continuity of our students. If we are wrong in our modeling and our plans, are not able to really prevent the spread of Omicron through our student body, and we see many, many students becoming symptomatic, becoming positive, that will then create the conditions in which we'll have to evaluate whether we can switch to in-person instruction.
We don't anticipate that happening. But we can't anticipate everything. So the major condition that would cause us to extend, either extend the online period or later in the semester revert to online, would be where we're not able to control the spread of Omicron within the student population.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you. And I'm trying to make sure I get to critical questions. I looked through the questions that are coming online. There are some questions online around how do we ensure that the students are actually providing the right information about their tests? And it's this question for Gary. Is there a process for uploading the tests that are coming from the students?
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah, so we are asking students to upload the result and a picture of the test. We'll be able to verify that they did upload a test without a band, a negative test. A lot of this, though, Avery, is absolutely dependent on our community coming together and our community doing the right thing, right, that we're asking everybody-- and we've done this so well so far, right? Their overall compliance on testing has been tremendous. Overall compliance on mask wearing has been tremendous.
And we do have to actually rely that people are going to be forthright with us and be able to-- and will be uploading the tests that's theirs. We don't have the capacity to watch everybody by Zoom, for example, to see whether or not it's they who are doing the test and then we can watch the band either appear or not appear. So there is personal responsibility that we're really expecting.
I personally think that our community is up for that and will do that. And I think we just have to reinforce that, that if we want to stay open, if we want people to have the academic experience that they are coming to Cornell to have, then everybody's got to participate. And we really need to be able to trust each other.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you. We only have a few more minutes left. And, unfortunately, we will not be able to get to many of your questions that you've posted either prior to or online. So I want to turn it back over to President Pollack, who will close us out for the session. President Pollack?
MARTHA POLLACK: Thanks, Avery. Thanks to all the panelists. And thanks to everyone here today. On one of the previous town halls fairly early, I guess the middle of the pandemic, I said that the only thing that's been certain about this virus is that it keeps surprising us.
And the Omicron variant is just the most recent example of a surprise. Remember, it was only December 1, so about seven weeks ago, that the first case of Omicron was detected in the US. And look where we are today. We thought that we were close to the end of the pandemic. And then in a matter of days, that hope went out the window.
And indeed, as I said when I started today, it's now clear that we cannot contain COVID. We're transitioning from a pandemic to an endemic. We need to learn to live with it. We need to protect those who are vulnerable while moving forward with our mission as a university.
But again, don't underestimate the power of the vaccines. Don't underestimate the new medicines we have. We'll keep an eye on things. But all in all, we really do believe that if we put in place what we've talked about today and in yesterday's email, we will be able to do those things, protect those who are vulnerable as much as possible while moving forward with our mission as a university.
It's all a balancing act. There are no perfect solutions. But we've been through a lot together as the Cornell community. I have personally been awed by how well this community has responded. Gary just talked about that when he talked about people stepping up and taking personal responsibility. It's been the way that the Cornell community has responded that makes me confident that we'll get through this next Omicron phase, and hopefully not, but whatever other surprises this virus has in store for us, that too.
What's most important, as we've done all along, is we need to support one another. We need to be kind to one another. And you need to be kind to yourselves.
So thank you for coming today. Please stay tuned. We will continue to monitor things. We will continue to stay in touch and share as much information as we have. Thank you all.
We've received your request
You will be notified by email when the transcript and captions are available. The process may take up to 5 business days. Please contact email@example.com if you have any questions about this request.
Faculty and staff gathered virtually on January 7, 2022, to get updates on Spring 2022 plans.