[MUSIC PLAYING] JOEL: Good afternoon, everyone. We're so glad you can join us this afternoon. We're very, very pleased to be here with our faculty and staff. We're very, very happy to be able to spend the next hour answering questions that have been submitted in advance. We had over 115 questions that we're going to try to get through a good number. Nowhere near all of them.
And we understand that folks will be also having an opportunity to submit questions in real time via the Q&A bar at the bottom of your screen. I'll do my best as moderator to be looking through that list as well. But our goal is to be able to provide as much information to all of you over the next 60 minutes.
We're going to start with some opening remarks. But first, let me introduce our panelists. President Martha Pollack, Provost Mike Kotlikoff, Vice President for Student and Campus Life, Ryan Lombardi. Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Mary Opperman, Vice Provost for Academic Integration Gary Koretzky, and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Lisa Nishii. With that, let me introduce our president. Martha's going to give some opening remarks, followed by Mike, followed by Gary Koretzky. Martha.
MARTHA POLLACK: Thank you, Joel. And welcome to everybody. I'm really sorry we can't be together in person. That would make it so much easier. But of course, if we could do that, we probably wouldn't need this. I do recognize this is an extremely, extraordinarily, really extraordinarily stressful time for everyone on so many levels. Each of you in different ways is doing something for Cornell, and I thank you for that.
As Joel said, we received many questions, and we want to try and answer as many of them as we possibly can. So I'm going to try to be brief, but I do want to make three comments.
The first is I just absolutely need to reiterate again that it is the health of our community, our faculty, our staff, our students, and our local residents of the Ithaca region that is driving all of our decisions. We want what is best, what is safest for our community. And we have and we're going to continue to make all of our decisions on that basis.
And I'm going to tell you that that includes being fully committed to changing course if we need to. If we determine that it is no longer in the interest of our community's health to have a residential semester, then I am fully prepared, fully committed to changing course, no matter how disruptive that may be.
Second, reasonably enough, I've received a lot of questions about, why are we different? I mean, we hear about other schools that are shutting down or that aren't even opening. Why are we different?
And what I want to say is first of all, there's an awful lot of schools that are going forward. You hear about the ones that are shutting down. You don't hear about the ones so far that are going forward. Every university, every college has to make its decisions based on its local circumstances, and that's what we've done, working with the best information we have about our situation at Cornell and in Ithaca.
And most importantly, and I can't stress this enough, what differentiates our approach from that of many, many, many schools, including those that have been in the news, opening and closing quickly, is our extensive virus program, virus testing program. That's what's going to let us do regular, frequent, repeated testing of our entire population with rapid 24-hour turnaround. We've invested an enormous amount to get that up and running. And it just has not been done at a number of our peer schools.
So we've heard a lot about UNC closing, but just down the road, Duke is up and running in their first year of classes with the surveillance testing program. So Mike is going to say more about this in a minute, but I want to stress that that is the key to our moving forward, and that really is what differentiates us in the context, of course, of a holistic plan. You couldn't just have testing. You have to have all the other components.
I would encourage you, if you get a moment, there's a very interesting editorial that was in The Washington Post about two days ago by Joseph Aoun-- he's the president of Northwest University-- explaining their reopening plan and how large-scale surveillance testing with follow-up contact tracing and quarantine, like us, is at the heart of it.
And finally, I want to address one other issue that's come up quite a bit recently, and that's anxiety when it appears that things haven't gone absolutely perfectly, when it appears that we've changed course. Now first of all, the university is not going to get everything perfect.
Our students aren't going to be perfect. Our staff aren't going to be perfect. Our faculty aren't going to be perfect. Human beings make mistakes. But I want to assure you that all of our modeling and all of our planning built in some fault tolerance, and a recognition that human beings don't get it right 100% of the time.
Secondly, all of our planning is based on being adaptive and being responsive to circumstances. And being responsive to a changing environment like this one is the only thing to do. We will do better if we're responsive and adaptive.
So let me give you an example. We recently determined that we're going to have a slightly smaller number of students returning to campus than we had originally planned for. Actually, it was at the outer bound, but we wanted to be conservative.
But as a result of realizing that we had extra spaces, we determined that we could relocate students, first-year students, who would have been housed in one of our dormitories, Skyler, and we can reserve that hall for extra quarantine space, increasing our supply of parking space.
Doing this was just a smart thing to do. It increases the odds of having a successful semester. It increases the odds of being able to have sufficient quarantine space. It doesn't indicate a lack of planning. Quite the contrary, it results from our carefully monitoring day in and day out our data and our situation and responding appropriately. What would be worrisome is to be overly rigid, not adaptive.
OK. I've spoken enough. There are a lot of questions. Let's get to, I guess, Provost Kotlikoff.
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Thanks very much, Martha. And I'll just elaborate a little bit on those comments. So I want to address a couple of issues that may be on people's minds because they've led to a significant amount of press and social media.
Our strategy, as I've said multiple times, doesn't rely on any single action. It's a series of protections or nested safety barriers that include arrival testing, which is isolating carriers of virus upon entry, followed by surveillance testing to identify and isolate infected individuals before they can spread disease.
But there are other safety precautions that are in our plan. They include monitoring for symptoms followed by testing, identifying contacts quickly and quarantining them, restricting group activities, social distancing, mask wearing, travel restrictions, facilities changes, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
I want to emphasize Martha's point. No one of these protections will be complied with 100%. And because they're not complied with 100%, that does not necessarily mean that our system has broken down. This system is designed to be robust enough to handle these breaches. That's what the modeling relies on.
So most importantly, we'll be monitoring data on a daily basis and providing those data to the community. And Martha will say something about that later in answer to a question.
If we see infections rising or quarantine and isolation capacity falling or our health system seeing too many cases, we are prepared to pivot quickly, first to address the specific problem, but then if necessary, to shut down. As Martha says, the health of our community is our paramount concern, and what many people have been working to protect nonstop for the last past few months.
So when people see a group of students in Belle Sherman or Fall Creek without masks, that does not indicate that we've lost control of our system or our modeling is breached. That displays either misunderstanding of the strategy or an emotional or a political response that runs against our scientific approach.
From the beginning, we've said we will rely on data. We are monitoring these assumptions daily. So far, as Gary will describe, we have an infection rate of our students of one in 1,000. 0.1%. Our models predicted that this would be at a rate of 2% or 4%. So an order of magnitude higher. It's not a reason to be complacent, but it does counter some of the alarm that you may be hearing, and certainly I'm hearing.
Finally, a word about move-in and change, as Martha mentioned. We have altered our plans to handle New York state mandated quarantine as the states included in the list grew beyond our local hotel capacity. I believe strongly that that was the right decision. Having students spread from Binghamton to Syracuse would not be conducive to infection control and would not be a sustainable solution. So we ask students to stay home and accepted students with needs into our dorms for quarantine.
This decision has been put forward as evidence that our plan is not working. I would submit that it is exactly the opposite. If we decided that we were not going to adapt to changing conditions, we would simply be foolish.
And there will be other unanticipated events, as Martha said. About 20 students showed up at night when the testing sites had closed for move-in of our quarantine students. We quarantined those students in the dorms where other students who did not yet have their test results were quarantined.
Neither group, those tested that day and those who would be tested the next morning, had test results when quarantined, and could have contained positive individuals. That was the point of quarantine. Again, this was raised as a dangerous departure from our policy, and one that even invalidated our model, which is simply not accurate.
So finally, let me be clear. There will be problems and missteps. We will respond and correct them. We will be vigilant in looking at the underlying data and transparent about those data. Let's continue to work together and try to have the most successful semester that we can.
If we need to pivot, we will do so. But we will do that only when the data tells us we should do it and that it is the right thing to do. Thank you. And now let me introduce Gary Koretzky, who will summarize a little bit where we are on the testing data in more detail.
GARY KORETZKY: Sure. Thanks, Mike. And thanks, Joel. And thank all of you for being here. What I'd like to do right now is very briefly just recap what we've done so far in terms of testing and what the results have been. You know, because as Martha said, this is a cornerstone of our strategy.
The testing I'm going to describe is testing that we've done either of faculty and staff as we were beginning our testing process, but then more recently with the real emphasis on the students that are in Ithaca, ready to begin their semester, and those that are arriving back. And the goal is to test all of our students before the semester begins. And I'll just give you the data.
So far, we have completed tests of 3,300 undergraduate students. And of those 3,300, seven were found to be positive. That's a 0.2%. Of the graduate students and professional students that we've tested, 4,518, there's only been one positive through our testing, and that's a 0.02% prevalence.
And the faculty and staff that we've tested, we've tested 1,635, again, with one positive, and that's a 0.06% prevalence. So we've tested now and have results on nearly 10,000 individuals. And as Mike said, with nine positives, that's just less than a 0.1% prevalence.
There still are data because we test every day, so there's testing data from yesterday and testing data from today. So that represents probably another 1,500 individuals that have been tested. So the testing right now is extremely robust, with the goal of being able to test our students as they return.
Within these numbers are students that returned from the states that are requiring-- or New York state is requiring quarantine for people returning from those states. And again, the numbers are small. There were only two positives from all of the students that we've put on campus from those states where quarantine is essential.
So as Mike said, this is less than what we had predicted. It's better than what we had hoped for. But it still requires vigilance. It requires vigilance for the testing, but really importantly, as Martha and Mike both emphasized strongly, it's also the behavioral modifications, masks and distancing. Testing is only there for when people become infected. The goal is to prevent those infections. But I'll turn it back now to Joel, I think has some questions for us.
JOEL: Thank you, Gary. And we are going to turn now to Q&A. I want to, again, thank those of you who have submitted questions in advance. Out of the 115 that we've received, I've selected about 30 that I'll be starting with and asking our panelists. To the extent that we have time after that in our 45 minutes, I'll turn to some that were offered during the live portion of the town hall.
So let's start. And I'm going to start with you, Gary. We had a number of questions around, when will faculty and staff actually receive information about how frequently they will be tested? Also, what form of test is going to be used for faculty and staff? And if you can address, how will immunocompromised staff be protected?
GARY KORETZKY: Sure. So I know this is a question that has been on the minds of virtually everybody for a long time. And I do hope if you've looked at your email, many of the answers are there now from about 25 minutes ago. Thank you very much, Joel, for getting the message out.
The reason why it's taken this long is that this is really complicated. It's complicated in a number of different ways. We needed to validate our testing approach, which we did. There are FAQs in the testing website that describes the process that we use. And we wanted to make sure that we had the wherewithal to provide the testing.
As Martha and Mike have emphasized, we wanted to make sure the testing could be done at the frequency that was required for safety. But we also wanted to make sure it was practical, that logistically we could do it. And also make sure that it was something that our community would be able to embrace. And so that took quite a bit of pre-work, and I feel like we're there now.
So let me just describe what the process will be. Starting when the semester begins, students will be notified about their testing dates and all of that as the semester begins. And they'll begin the first week of the semester to be tested twice a week. And our faculty and staff will be tested then starting the following week.
And the testing protocol will be for individuals to self-swab the front part of their nostril. This is very different from our arrival testing, which is nasal pharyngeal testing. That's a swab that's a little bit more uncomfortable. It goes to the back of the nose, where the nose and the pharynx come together. But again, through our validation and with our frequency of testing, we are very confident that the interior nares, the front of the nostril testing, will be appropriate for our safety measures.
And this will be done initially in a self-collected but observed fashion to make sure everybody has the technique down. We might be pivoting at some point for people to be able to do self-collection on their own. That's something that we're still talking about and figuring out the best methodology. But we feel that this is a method that will be much, much less uncomfortable, especially because we're going to be asking individuals to be tested frequently.
So what does frequently mean? That means for undergraduates, every undergraduate, twice a week. And these are undergraduates that are living on campus, undergraduates living off campus, undergraduates who are doing mostly remote learning. They will be tested twice a week.
Our graduate students will be tested weekly. They'll be able to petition for less frequent testing if they are research phase graduate students, are not on campus very much, not on campus at all, that the testing frequency could be diminished and even for some might be reduced to the point where it won't be required.
For our faculty and staff, they'll be testing once a week unless they're faculty and staff who have great interactions with students. And those faculty and staff will be tested twice a week. Similarly, if they're faculty or staff, for example, at the veterinary college where there's a lot of interaction with the public, where there's a lot of activity that might make it difficult to have distancing, those individuals would be tested twice a week.
Other faculty who are coming to campus but less frequently would be tested every other week. And other faculty, again, and staff who have elected to work remotely only will not be required to be tested, but we'll be offering testing should they feel that that's necessary.
I really want to emphasize, this does not obviate testing for cause. We're calling that-- that's the methodology or that's the phrase we're using to encourage everybody to self-assess every day. If you're symptomatic, if you've been in contact with somebody with COVID, we want you to be tested right away. And that will be available for faculty and staff at the Ithaca Mall for students at Cornell Health.
So that testing, we'll remind you of that through the daily chat, but we want to make sure that that is very much on the forefront of everybody's mind, that if they feel sick, it's appropriate to call and arrange for testing with conversations with your provider.
JOEL: Gary, anything about immunocompromised?
GARY KORETZKY: Oh, yes. Really good point. I'm sorry. I forgot that, Joel. So certainly, if somebody doesn't feel like they could be coming onto campus because they're immunocompromised, again, for faculty and staff, these may well be individuals that fall into the category of not requiring any testing.
If there are other individuals who really have a medical need, we'll make sure testing is required. We'll figure out a way to test them in a way where they don't actually have greater risk by coming to get tested. We appreciate that individuals who do have medical conditions that would make coming onto campus risky, we will find a way to make sure that they're accounted for.
JOEL: Thank you, Gary. I'm going to turn now to another question where we had a number of inquiries. I'm going to turn to you, Ryan. It has to do with the behavioral compact and compliance.
One such question reads, does the university plan to actively monitor campus and college town parties? I want this to succeed, but you are gravely overestimating the students' willingness to play by the rules. Do you really think our students are that different from all other college-age students? How can the university expect students to report on their peers? Ryan?
RYAN LOMBARDI: Thanks, Joel. Happy to address that. I know there have been a lot of questions about this. And of course, you wouldn't be surprised otherwise if you heard the vice president for Student and Campus Life say that I do think our students are different from all students. But I also recognize they're human and they're still adolescents and forming. But I do believe deeply in our students, and I'm certainly hopeful that we will be able to set an example for the nation in this regard.
With that said, I want to talk about what we will do, but I also want to emphasize a really critical point, which is I've been doing extensive number of forums with students and their parents, both new and continuing. And many of them are just so very excited to have the chance to be here, even knowing that it's going to be a substantially different experience.
And we have to remember that for so many of our students, Cornell is the safe place where they can successfully pursue an education. They don't have that opportunity necessarily at home. And even if they do, they don't have the opportunity to have the fully transformative experience where they could build relationships even in a small setting with perhaps the people that live across the hall or the people that they share an apartment with. Those are very important components to a student's human development, and we very much support that happening.
So let we talk about behavior. We have really a multipronged approach. So of course, we don't want to just focus and assume all violations. You have to begin before that and go upstream, is what we call it, or our public health professionals call it, and that's really trying to prevent behavior from going the wrong way where you have to do what we call downstream and follow-up to that.
So we've got a couple of initiatives that I want to share with you. I think most folks are familiar with the behavioral compact, but may not be familiar with the course that students took prior to testing to the behavioral compact. That is available for all faculty and staff if you wish to view it. It's on Canvas, and you can enroll in that course. It's about 45 to 60 minutes, depending on how fast you click through it. Students had to take a brief quiz before they went to the behavioral compact and a test to that.
A couple of other things on upstream. We have peer health ambassadors. These are students who have volunteered, starting this weekend, to push public health information, actively engage in campaign, and advising student organizations on safe practices. They're really remarkable. We're planning to have tents set around campus where students can hand out extra face coverings and other information about promoting good behavior.
I think it's also important that I share with you, if you're not already aware, that our Greek fraternities and sororities have implemented a social moratorium for this fall. Of course, that's something the administration was very much in favor of, but the student leaders as well as the alumni also agreed that that was the right approach to take for this semester.
So no events with alcohol this semester are supposed to be held. And if there are events that don't have alcohol, strict event guidelines that comply with the behavioral compact are expected.
Now downstream, because I know that's where a lot of the questions come in. What happens if a student violates the policy? What do we do if we see these things? We have a couple of tools in the tool box for this.
First, we will have a publicly available reporting forum. We're just finalizing the mechanics of that. It will be available by the start of classes where any member of the Cornell or local community can report concerns.
Now obviously, not every issue will merit the same response, but all incidents that are reported in our actionable will have follow-up from a team that we've established called the Cornell Compact Compliance Team. Its staff from around campus who have volunteered their time to have behavioral interventions with students after the fact. But we've also engaged with the Office of the Judicial Administrator should behavior escalate and require additional sanctions beyond those that the C3 Team might implement.
I will also share that actually, it started today. We have a team of just about 100-- what we're calling behavioral compact monitors. These are staff primarily from our athletics department who have been trained and who began roving campus and the college town area. Again, starting today. They have roving shifts. They will intervene when they see real-time behavioral issues.
Now they'll do so with respect and candor, but they will ask students and others to correct behavior if they see not proper physical distancing or mask wearing, those types of things. If they come upon a scene where there's a party or something like that that they don't feel comfortable intervening or aren't able to, they will also log that in our reporting tool. They actually are doing that effective immediately, and will share that with our team, our C3 Team, and the Dean of Students Office for appropriate follow-up.
I also want to make you aware that the Tompkins County Health Department has partnered with the Tompkins County Sheriff, and they are also doing party intervention and sharing with us any information, and with CUPD, any information they get about off-campus parties so that if we do learn of that, we can follow up with that.
One of the things that we had students do as they prepared to arrive was let us know where they were living locally, which is not information we always have. And that means if we become aware of a party that occurred off campus, we can identify who the students are who hosted that, because they are the folks who live there, and we will hold those students accountable. We may not know all the students that were there, but we will know that students who hosted the event, and we will hold them accountable for that.
I would just emphasize the point that both Martha and Mike made about, we have to be realistic of our expectations of perfection. We didn't propose in the models that they would be perfectly behaved at all times for the entire semester. So it did have assumptions less than 100%. So that doesn't mean we're not going to work diligently to try to achieve as high-level compliance as possible. But I do think it's important that we're reasonable as well and understand as an educational institution.
We're trying to stress with individual students the importance of individual accountability. And really, that it's all of our role to help intervene and remind each other. Sometimes it's an accident. We forget, pull the mask down, don't put it back up. That's really on all of us. And our Skorton Center for Health Initiatives team is publishing a training guide this week for faculty and staff on tips, how to approach these gentle reminders.
It happened to me this week. I was up in one of our community centers. And a couple of non-students-- I think they were probably parents-- had come into a building, had accidentally left their face masks down, and I just said politely from a distance, hey, could you please put your face covering back up? And they said, oh, gosh. Sorry. I didn't even remember.
So this is very painless and easy to do in many cases. But again, our team will share some information. So that's really how we're focusing on behavioral intervention. I want to address one other thing while I have the floor. And I'm sorry, Joel, for taking so long.
JOEL: It's OK.
RYAN LOMBARDI: I know I won't be on here a whole lot. But there were questions about our resident advisors on campus who work in residential life. They expressed recently some concerns around communication and health and safety.
I did want to let the community know that Mark-- I'm sorry. Mark. Mike, Mary, and I had a very good meeting with those student staff today, earlier today. And I very much regret that we came to this point, but we do have to strengthen our communication in the spirit of all of the many things we're trying to put together this summer. I think our communication broke down on occasion, and that led some of our student staff to feel out of the loop.
But we have a collaborative plan for moving forward productively to address their concerns. And of course, I want to address most importantly from a health and safety perspective all the concerns that were brought up. We are implementing immediately to make sure that the students feel completely safe fulfilling their roles as we get ready for move-in. But I just wanted to acknowledge that. Thank you for letting me do so, Joel.
JOEL: Thank you, Ryan. I'm going to turn now to another issue where we received a lot of questions. It has to do with our testing data. When will we, the public, have access to data related to Cornell's testing? And I'm going to turn to you, Martha, for that, as well as this component. What are the conditions that would trigger a shutdown?
MARTHA POLLACK: Sure. Thanks, Joel. We want to be transparent. We have no interest in hiding data. We're asking all of you to partner with us, cooperate with us, and we want to be cooperative in return.
And towards that end, we are creating a dashboard. It is just about final. We've been trying to make it as good as we possibly can and spending a lot of time looking at what our peers are doing. And it will be out there early next week. It will have data about the number of tests we've done, the number of cases for the past day, the past week, and then cumulatively going back-- I think it goes back to February, although the first case was actually in March.
It will have information about available quarantine and isolation space, about hospital capacity. We're working very closely with Cayuga Medical Center on this. And on whether we have sufficient supplies on hand to continue surveillance testing. So all of that data will be there.
And we're also, like many of our peers, going to have a color-coded alert system starting with green, the new normal, up to yellow, orange. And then red is essentially the shutdown condition.
As we move through these stages, we start in green, the new normal. But there are really four key factors that we've learned talking with our public health experts are the most important and are going to determine when we need to escalate.
One is the number of infections over the past seven days among students and employees. Now this is after we get past arrival testing. Arrival testing is different. You might get potentially 2% to 4% of the students coming in and immediately isolate them. Once we're past arrival testing, it's the number of infections that we see over the past seven days. So that's one factor.
The second is the percent of quarantine and isolation space available. Are we going to run into any problems running out of places to isolate and quarantine students? We want to catch that early.
The third is remaining local hospital capacity. We're working very closely with Marty Stallone, the CEO of CMC, to make sure that he never feels that we're at the point where there's risk of overstressing the hospital.
And then the last one is a day's supply of reagents and swabs and so on hand to continue doing the surveillance testing. We have a small team that meets every single evening to review these.
And then there are fixed limits, triggers that say whether you need to consider an escalation and an alert level. So any time that any of those four factors goes over the trigger level, then we have to. We are committed to considering whether an escalation is warranted.
It might not be if only one of them goes over the limit and we know why it is. We have a commitment that the supplies on hand are going to-- the supplies for testing are going to arrive in two days and we can revisit it. But any time any single one of them goes over the trigger level, we will assess.
So let me give you an example of the shutdown level, the red alert level. If we saw our stock of supplies drop below it was needed for two weeks of testing, we would immediately consider whether we needed to go to shutdown, because actually, the ideal is to have at least a month.
Similarly, if we saw that the number of infections over the past seven days-- again, once we're past the arrival period-- was over 250, we would immediately consider that. And the reason 250 is the number is that as long as you're staying below 250, we believe we can control the epidemic. Things won't get out of hand. Once it goes above that, you start getting into this uncontrollable growth, and that's when you might need to shut down.
But the last thing I want to say is, of course, we could always escalate even if those triggers aren't mentioned. So if all four of the factors started to approach the triggering level, we could still escalate the alert level and even go to shutdown, even if none of them had yet exceeded the target.
JOEL: Thank you, Martha. I'm going to stay with you for this next question. What are legal, logistical reasons we couldn't require students in Ithaca to submit to the same testing behavioral regime if classes were all online?
MARTHA POLLACK: Yeah, that's a great question, and it is something we discussed extensively with many people back in the spring when we were thinking about all this. So we're going to have students studying online from around the country and around the fall. And you know, in theory, we could ask students to do anything regardless of their location.
But the rationale for us to impose and enforce significant behavioral requirements or testing requirements when a student's only connection to us is online is pretty limited. The behavioral and testing requirements we are imposing are directly tied to our local programs and capacities and our other community health commitments, community health commitments.
Now our collective assessment was that the university's practical ability to enforce behavioral or testing requirements would be extremely limited if the only contact we had with them was virtual. And to impose requirements on students without a meaningful enforcement capacity would engage us in empty posturing. That really is inherently both legally and ethically problematic.
Now you might say, OK, well, that's true if you only have an online connection. But shouldn't you be able to enforce compliance for students who are not only online, but they're living in the Ithaca region, and do that differently from what you do for someone living somewhere else? And we did consider that quite a bit.
But our assessment was that first of all, it was almost impossible to decide what determined local. Is Portland local? Is Syracuse local? Is Danby local? Secondly, any student who wished to evade university controls could easily do so by just not disclosing their return to Ithaca.
But most importantly, it seemed neither practical nor fair, and in fact was both practically and legally challenging, to treat an online student who's living in private housing here in Ithaca differently from one who's living in Chicago or maybe even Portland.
It's really precisely because the student has access to our physical campus-- our libraries, our eateries, our classrooms, our student activity spaces, the tents we're putting up and more, tangible assets that the students want-- it's really that access that enables the university to require that they register their local address, that they adhere to testing, that they sign the behavioral compact, that they get their student ID activated for campus access, and become subject to enforcement of the behavioral compact.
I also believe-- this next one is really just a belief-- but I actually believe that when students are interacting with one another and the faculty and staff on campus that it will be much easier to reinforce this fundamental message of shared responsibility. And conversely, that if you had thousands of students in town purely taking classes online with the campus shutdown, it would be much harder to instill this sense of common cause.
So OK, bottom line. In a wholly online setting, we probably could extort students living locally to engage with health and safety protocols, and we probably could go out and make public statements to the effect that we require testing and compliance. But it was exceptionally important to all of us who were thinking this through that we develop strategies that we believed in, that we believed were real and true. And our conclusion was that the best way to meaningfully enforce these requirements was by reopening the campus both as a practical and a legal matter.
JOEL: Thank you, Martha. I am going to ask you another question. Then I promise I'll give you a little bit of a breather. This has to do with the impact on the greater Ithaca community. Has the Cornell administration taken into account the impact of bringing back undergraduate students on the transmission rates and positivity rates of the entire local community, Tompkins County, and surroundings?
MARTHA POLLACK: Joel, you're going to tell me that yes is not a sufficient answer, aren't you?
Yes. No, absolutely. Absolutely. Our commitment all along has been to the health not only of our faculty and staff and students, but to the broader community of which we are a part. This is my home. This is your home. This is all of our home.
As we've been explaining-- and I hate, as my mother used to say, to sound like a broken record-- but our analysis show that in the residential setting, we can better control the number of infections among our Cornell faculty, students, and staff than on the online setting. And when you have fewer infections among students and employees, it leads to fewer infections in the broader community.
Now that might seem self-evident, but we also pushed our modeling to confirm this. And you can go online and see the reduced numbers of infections in the community, projected in the community in the residential setting.
I also want to point out, again, I want to go back to this aggressive testing program. Without this aggressive testing program that we've invested so heavily in and that we need all of our students to participate in, we wouldn't be able to identify and isolate asth-- as-- asymptomatic students. Not asymptotic students. Asymptomatic students who would otherwise be able to infect community members. So absolutely, we are interested in the health of the broader community.
JOEL: Thank you, Martha. Now we're going to shift to the issue of masks. And I'm going to ask Gary and Lisa to answer. It's two questions. First, what is Cornell going to require in terms of acceptable face mask options for students, staff, and faculty? And how is that going to be enforced? That's first.
Number two, specifically to teaching and faculty. Are those teaching in person required to teach while wearing, A, a mask; B, a face shield; C, both; or D, either a mask or a shield, but both are not necessary? Clarity would be appreciated.
GARY KORETZKY: Great. OK. Thanks, Joel. So first, the question about masks. So there is a mask policy that is articulated and available on the website. I'll just mention briefly, that says that unless you are in your private office or your own dorm room, if you're inside a Cornell building, you wear a mask, of course, unless you're eating and you're in a dining facility.
If you're outside, the mask has got to be visible. And if you're encountering others, the mask is worn. And again, we've said this many times and we'll keep saying it, that this is a primary and a very, very effective protection.
There are signs on campus. Many, many signs. And we really hope that folks take this very seriously. We're actually monitoring that. We're watching and we're getting some sense of what the mask wearing compliance is.
It's getting better. A few weeks ago, half the individuals were not wearing masks. That number is improving, but we really need to get close to complete compliance around that.
So what types of masks? So there's so much literature about this. What's the right mask to wear? Part of this depends upon in what environment you're working, what you're doing. But there are certainly clearly some types of face shields or face coverings that are less effective than others. And we're trying to go through those, and those are going to be also provided guidance around that on the website.
I don't know whether people are aware. There was a large amount of interest in gaiters, wearing around your neck and you just pull them up. And there were papers that said they don't work, papers said that they do work. Right now, our [? E and HS ?] staff are really looking into that to provide guidance.
But one thing is certainly true. A mask doesn't work if it's over your mouth but not your nose. So we're actually watching and trying to help people recognize how to wear a mask. I know that you were going to ask Lisa about-- oh, Lisa is back.
JOEL: Perfect timing. Timing is everything.
GARY KORETZKY: Lisa, we've been talking about masks, and the question has come up about masks in the teaching session, whether shields are appropriate, masks, a combination, and if you could provide some clarity on that.
LISA NISHII: Sure. Sorry about that. OK. I don't have Wi-Fi at home. I'm on a hotspot, so I just got dropped. So the answer to that question is faculty can choose whether or not they use a mask or a face shield.
With that said, I should tell you that although there isn't a lot of good quality research yet on face shields, the general consensus is that masks are preferable. So it's up to the faculty member.
If you decide to use a face shield, we recommend that you wear a mask leading up to lecturing and then immediately following your lecture. And if you're walking around the class talking to students, then a mask would be better. And if after class students come up to talk to you, we recommend replacing your face shield with a mask, and of course, making six-foot distancing.
JOEL: Thank you so much, Lisa. I'm going to stay with you for the next question. It has to do with classroom cleaning. What will the process be for the cleaning of classrooms in between classes? Who is responsible for this? Lisa, did you hear that? OK.
JOEL: OK. Thank you, Mike. Thank you.
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Lisa, are you back? You're muted.
LISA NISHII: I think so. Can you hear me? Sorry.
JOEL: Yeah, we can.
LISA NISHII: OK, sorry about that. So buildings care teams in all of the classroom buildings will be cleaning the classrooms twice, once during the day and once in the evening when they can do an even more thorough cleaning. We have worked the course schedule in a way that allows for some-- you'll notice some staggering in the course schedule, and that's to provide buildings care teams with some time to be able to go into the classrooms.
But in addition to that, there will be disinfectant spray bottles with disinfectant in them in the classrooms. I learned today that the ratio will be roughly one spray bottle to eight students or so. And there'll be wipes, paper towels to use.
There may be a number of different ways in which students can get creative. For example, one student can have the bottle and spray multiple towels in order to save time, but also to reduce the passing of the bottle between each other. They can also use their disinfectant hand sanitizer after and before they touch the spray bottles.
As soon as disinfecting wipes become available-- there are supply chain issues-- as soon as they become available, those will also be used and available, because some people think that they're easier to use and prefer them. So we're waiting on those, and those will be added.
If you find that there aren't supplies in the classroom-- that is, that the spray bottles are empty-- we recommend that you reach out to your building cares team to have them be filled, although they'll be doing that on a daily basis. That's who you should reach out to if you notice this.
JOEL: Thank you, Lisa. Gary, back to you, a question on PPE. Will a set quantity of PPE-- in particular masks-- be distributed to each school, or is it up to us-- I'm assuming faculty-- to request it for our school?
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah. So a really important question, because this is a supply, again, that we need to make sure we're not short of, just like the testing supplies. And the way this has been managed is that individual faculty should go to their units. Their units have procurement groups for PPE that are working with the central administration.
So they will be making requests. They'll make sure that it's known. There'll be a lot of central purchase of PPE in distribution. But there may be some unique things that a unit might need for what they do in particular, and then that will be a discussion as to who's responsible for preparing that.
But there's a major effort to ensure that the things that everybody will need-- masks, gloves-- are available as the units need those. So those are conversations between the units and the central administration.
JOEL: Thank you so much, Gary. Mary, I'm going to turn to you now. There are two questions that are going to be best addressed by you, I think. The first one. Can you please address concerns about administration pressuring staff to come in when the vast [INAUDIBLE]? Can staff really be required to work in [INAUDIBLE]? We are told that once [INAUDIBLE] back on campus we will complete a safety training about the protocol. But I would like to have clarity on the protocol before I commit to coming back on campus. Mary?
MARY OPPERMAN: Thanks, Joel. First of all, welcome, everybody, and thank you for coming. And just a quick shout-out to all of our employees who are working, whether they're here on campus or they're working remotely. This is a really remarkable time. And while we have lots of questions that we're still trying to answer, what this has proven to me is that we are an amazing community, and we're very aware of our interdependence. So thank you all.
In terms of the question, thanks for asking it. I'm going to try to take it in pieces. Let me start by saying every single part of the university is either finishing or has already finished a reactivation plan. That reactivation plan has been reviewed and signed off on.
And they include safety measures, detailed safety measures about how workspaces will be distanced, if Plexiglas is needed, if directional signs are needed, where the cleaning materials will be, and hand sanitizers. So to the piece of the question about coming back to shared spaces, that has been or is being managed through these reactivation plans.
In terms of feeling that you're being pressured to come in when you can do most of your work at home, my recommendation would be to ask questions. Are you being asked to come back to do all of your work? Are you being asked to come back to do some of your work? You may not need to come back for every single day, but there may be elements of the job that do require you to be on campus. So I want to thank you for asking this question, and urge you to ask those of your supervisor.
Once your time on campus has been cleared and you will be put into the daily check system, that daily check system requires you, on days you are coming to campus, to complete a health check. If there are any questions that you answer that require further investigation, Cayuga Health Systems will-- you will be instructed to set up a telehealth visit with Cayuga Health Systems.
And it is in the daily check that you will find the information about the environmental health and safety training that you will take. So I hope that answers your questions. There were a lot of pieces to it, and I'm not sure that I got all of them, but I hope I did.
JOEL: You did a great job, Mary. In fact, such a good job I'm going to stay with you for the next question, so get ready.
MARY OPPERMAN: OK.
JOEL: It's a question about how long we're going to be working remotely. Here's the question. As someone who is working remotely and can fulfill her job duties, will we hear from university leadership about how long we should plan to be working this way? I am assuming 2021, maybe even a year from now until I return, if ever, to a university office. And then a final element. If I'm working remotely, will I be expected to do daily check-ins and be tested since I'm not on campus?
MARY OPPERMAN: We don't know how long we'll be asking people to work remotely, fully or partially remotely. Keeping people who can do all or part of their work off the campus is an element of our safety plan, because it helps with densification of the campus, which makes it easier for physical distancing. I wish I could tell you-- I think we all wish we knew when this would be over and we could get back to what we know. And many of us miss a great deal.
I will tell you we did a survey of our workers who are off campus working remotely. We got great feedback, great response rate. And here's what we learned. The majority of people have an interest in continuing perhaps in perpetuity with some level of remote, but we heard over and over again that people miss their time on campus.
They miss their colleagues. They miss the ability to feel like sort of a team on the campus. And we're very aware of that. We're trying really hard to put programming in to help people stay connected. For as long as you remain fully remote, so not coming to campus at all, you will not be placed in a daily check, and you do not need to be tested.
JOEL: Thank you very, very much, Mary. Martha, I'm going to go back to you. How am I expected to feel safe on campus when even the university president predicts more than 1,000 cases?
MARTHA POLLACK: Another really good question. Let me try to put this 1,000 cases in perspective first. Remember that we're going to be doing surveillance testing. We're going be testing every single member of the Cornell community over and over. As you've heard, our students twice a week, for example. So we aim to catch-- I'm never going to say we're going to catch every single infection. But we aim to catch nearly every single infection that happens, and catch it early.
And that's very different from the numbers-- so the number of cases we're going to catch is very different from what you see when people are tested for cause. Most of the time when you see numbers reported, when you go to the Tompkins County website and you see how many cases they are, those are almost all tests for cause. People were tested either because they were symptomatic or they had a known contact with someone else who was infected.
And as a result of that, many cases are missed, because we know that this is a disease where many people have no symptoms at all, or they get a runny nose. They don't really think about it.
In fact, it's a little bit hard to know how many cases are missed, because by definition, you miss them. But when scientists have gone in and done antibody testing, there are estimates that the actual number of COVID cases out there may be as much as 10 times as high as what gets detected. That's an estimate. We don't really know. But there are certainly many, many cases missed. So when you see 1,000 cases, you have to calibrate that that's a different kind of count than the kinds of count you're used to seeing.
Now that said, do I want to have 1,000 cases on campus? No. I would love to have none. I don't have a way to do that. So again, what we're trying to do, what we're trying to do is go with a solution that minimizes the risk.
And that number of 1,000-- hundreds maybe more than 1,000-- that's an estimate. It's based on the best data we have available about things like prevalence rates and rates of transmission. But they're estimates. We're learning about this disease every day. They could change.
But you know, at the risk of being repetitive yet again, if they change up or down, they're going to change in the same direction up or down in the online and in the residential case until you get to a very, very small number of students who would be back in town, lower than we could possibly expect in the online case. So you know, if, for example, you're infected for a longer period than we currently think, that's going to be true in both those scenarios.
So we use this epidemiological modeling not so much to make precise predictions, to say, oh, there's going to be 1,000 cases, but to say, there'll be in the order of 1,000 cases in the residential setting, and in the online-only setting, we'll see six, seven, eight times that many. That's what we want to avoid.
So to get to the punch line, 1,000 cases is scary. No question about it. It's not as scary as you might think first, because we are doing surveillance testing. We're going to pick up all these asymptomatic cases.
Secondly, because we're going to be testing early and frequently, we're going to pick up people and get them into isolation, and that reduces their transmission risk. And then we're going to contact tracing and quarantine those people.
But I'm not saying to you that there's no risk of infection. There is. So wear your mask, socially distance, wash your hands. But please understand that we are and will continue to do everything we can to minimize the risk.
JOEL: Thank you, Martha.
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: And Joel, let me just add one thing.
JOEL: Please, Mike.
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: [INAUDIBLE] answering questions here. Underlying what Martha says is the advantage that we have from having done this epidemiological model, because we can see what the predictions are and measure these infections as they're occurring against this modeling, and seeing if we are in a situation in which there is a nominal amount of infection or something that's getting into something more serious and more difficult.
And that's a big advantage, and something that we will be watching every day. So there will be a meeting every day. There's one right after this town hall at 5:30 that Martha and I lead that looks at the data for that day and allows us to compare this to what our predictions would be. So that is a big advantage for us.
JOEL: We have just about a minute and a half. Gary Koretzky, I'm going to go to you and ask if you could just make it nice and concise. It's about notification and contact tracing. Could you talk a bit about who's responsible for that, and how an individual who's on this town hall, how would they know if someone in their building tests positive?
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah. So a real important question, Joel. And this comes from this tight collaboration that we have with Tompkins County's Health Department, and also with Cayuga Health and with Cornell Health. So this is really a collaborative effort.
So if somebody is determined to be positive, by legislation, by requirement, that information is transferred to Tompkins County's Health Department. The director of Tompkins County Health meets with us regularly and we've talked about strategies. Their responsibility is to inform that individual that they are positive.
They will then be isolated and they will be interviewed so that they can inform Tompkins County Health about individuals with whom they may have had contact. And those individuals are then interviewed. They're offered testing. And then they are also asked to quarantine because they've been in contact with somebody who was positive.
We will know about students because of the relationship with Tompkins County Health and Cornell Health. We will also know about our staff and our faculty, because we may understand better what the work environment was where there might have been other contacts.
This will all be done, though, very confidentially, because one of the tenants of all of this is to preserve the privacy of individuals and their own health. So people who need to know will know. They'll be told that they're contacts, and they'll be tested and they'll be quarantined.
Individuals that don't have a risk will probably not know directly. They might know that people that they work with or that they see around or are gone for a time, and they can surmise. But we have to be really, really careful that we're protecting the privacy of individuals.
So we are very, very comfortable with the collaborative relationship, that we're part of the process. Cornell Health is part of the process for the students. Cornell HR is part of the process for the faculty and staff. But we want to make sure that confidentiality is not breached. So a short answer for a very, very complicated issue.
JOEL: I appreciate that. And with that, we've come to the end. I want to thank all of you for joining us. I want to thank our panelists and our exceptional team from IT and our captioner. We really appreciate this opportunity to talk with you, and we will do it again soon. Be well.
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Joel Malina, Vice President for University Relations, moderated a faculty and staff town hall Aug. 20 to answer questions about move-in and quarantine, testing for COVID-19, the curriculum, workplace issues, and other concerns related to opening for the fall semester.
Panelists: Martha Pollack, President; Mike Kotlikoff, Provost; Gary Koretzky, Vice Provost for Academic Integration; Ryan Lombardi, Vice President for Student and Campus Life; Mary Opperman, Vice President and Chief Human Resource Officer; and Lisa Nishii, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education.