JOEL MALINA: Good afternoon, and thank you for taking time to be with us for today's town hall. I hope that everyone is enjoying their summer thus far. My name is Joel Malina. I'm vice president for University Relations, and I'll be moderating today's discussion, featuring four of our colleagues, who I'd like to first introduce. And then we'll have some opening remarks, followed by our addressing some of the many questions that were submitted in advance.
Our panelists include our provost, Mike Kotlikoff, the vice president and chief human resources officer, Mary Opperman, our vice provost for Academic Integration, Gary Koretsky, and vice provost for Undergraduate Education, Lisa Nishii. Mike, I'd like to start by asking you if there are any opening remarks you'd like to share.
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Thanks, Joel, and thanks, everybody, for attending. I can see we have really excellent attendance. We just wanted to get the community together in anticipation of what is now our fifth academic semester with COVID-19 in our midst and talk a little bit about our plans. Of course, the university and the country is in a very different place today than it was in the fall of 2020, when we did not have vaccines.
And we were able, through surveillance testing, to virtually eliminate the virus from our campus. Today, the virus, as everyone knows, is pretty much ubiquitous. It's all around us. But so also is a level of immunity, immunity in our community. And that results in a far less risk of serious disease.
So we've modified some of our plans for the coming fall, and we want to update you on them. We're still, however, facing the fundamental issue that we faced for quite some time, and that is trying to balance normalizing the educational experience of our students and our research and outreach missions while keeping infections as low as possible on the campus.
We think we have a good plan to do that. I'd like to outline that plan at a very high level for you and then turn it over to Gary Koretsky, who will talk about why we've made some of these modifications and a little bit of some of the-- add some color to some of the issues surrounding the decisions and talk about, fundamentally, how we can all work together to ensure that we have a safe and effective semester.
So what are, then, the changes at a high level? I'll just walk through them and then turn it to Gary. First of all, we're continuing the vaccine mandate. We're requiring that every student, faculty, and staff member have a primary series of COVID-19 vaccinations. And Gary will talk a little bit about what that refers to.
We are not, however, requiring that everyone is up-to-date on their boosters and going through a process of checking everyone to make sure that everyone is up-to-date on their boosters. We strongly encourage that everyone follow the CDC guidelines and get every booster vaccine that they're eligible to receive. That protects all of us. And it's one of the fundamental reasons that we're in a far better place than what we were in the fall of 2020.
Second major change, we will be, this semester, pre-testing, urging our students that come back to campus to pre-test, and everyone, really, as they reenter campus, urging them to pre-test with an antigen test. They're ubiquitous now. Easily available.
And to inform us, through the Daily Check, if they're positive, to not come back to campus until they've gone through the CDC five days of required isolation following the onset of symptoms and then the rest of those recommendations that Gary will outline. And then for students, we're going to have arrival antigen testing. We'll have antigen tests all around. Urge students to take those antigen tests. They'll be available.
We're not going to mount a surveillance PCR system this semester. We will, however, rely on antigen tests and make them freely available for students, faculty, and staff. If individuals experience symptoms and need a PCR, if students need a PCR, they can go through Cornell Health to obtain a PCR test. And similarly, faculty and staff can go to their physicians.
We understand that the mall testing site will still be open. But we're pivoting away from a surveillance system that was really meant to try and eliminate virus from the campus, understanding that that's really no longer possible. We're also requesting that students isolate in place. So again, follow CDC guidelines, and isolate in their dorms.
We will not be mounting the kinds of motel isolation that was such a challenge logistically for so many people. But we will put in place a behavioral system for students that Gary will describe, an etiquette for how to really handle this if you are positive and if your roommate-- and how a roommate should handle that situation.
And then finally, and I know this is probably something we'll spend a lot of time talking about, masks in the classroom are strongly encouraged, but they will not be mandated. We're asking everyone to respect others and other's wishes. And particularly, if someone identifies a vulnerability, we're asking everyone to listen to that vulnerability and respond by wearing a mask if requested.
But we're not having a mandated system where everyone is required to wear a mask in class. We're encouraging that, but we're understanding that so many people are in-- if you're living a normal life now, you're exposed to individuals that are not wearing masks, you're within six feet of them all over the place. And we're really acknowledging that and recognizing that on the campus.
So those are the five major things that we'll be talking about today. There will be an announcement going out. We'll have a communication coming out today that will describe this and describe this in somewhat more detail. And as I say, now I'd like to turn it to Gary Koretsky, who will walk through this in more detail. Gary?
GARY KORETSKY: Great. Thanks, Mike. And thank all of you for joining. We've been here together on these town halls. It's been a while. And I really, really appreciate people coming so that we can try to be as open and transparent as possible with plans that we're making and get feedback.
I want to reiterate a number of things that Mike said and also provide a little bit more detail on how the semester will unfold. I think most importantly, it's really critical to recognize that our principles haven't changed. From the very beginning of the pandemic, it was our goal to do what was most important to protect the health and safety of our community while enabling campus life to be as normal as possible-- education, research, all of the things that we do.
And it's always been that balance. And what we're proposing and what we're planning for the fall is very much in concert with that. As Mike said, in the fall of 2020, the only way we thought we could do this was to try to eliminate as much infection and nearly all infection on campus as possible. But things have really changed. And the things that have changed, they're really two.
One is that the virus, SARS-CoV-2, is now a virus that's in our environment. There are other viruses in our environment, adenoviruses, other coronaviruses. This is a virus that's in our environment, and we have to learn to live with it. And what we are proposing are ways to do that.
What's made things so different about now versus 2020 are the vaccinations. So in the fall of 2020, there was this incredibly transmissible virus for which nobody had immunity that had incredibly severe consequences for a number of people who were infected. The vaccines have changed all of that. And one of the wonderful things is that our community embraced that.
And we'll talk a little bit more about vaccinations now and in the future. But that has changed the spectrum of disease with which people are at risk with COVID. And it allows us to do more things. So as Mike said, the precepts or the notions for the coming semester are really two things.
One is learning to live with the virus, but the other is recognizing still that it's a transmissible agent. And we need to consider new etiquette, new types of behaviors, so that we can limit the infection as much as possible. So the tools that we've got are vaccination. The tools that we have are masks. And the other tool that we've got is antigen testing, which, as Mike said, is going to be freely available for the entire community through the semester.
So what I'd like to do is talk a little bit about some of the details around-- so first, vaccinations. Vaccination is required for all of our students and all of our employees. The nomenclature that we're using follows the nomenclature of the CDC, and that is that there is primary vaccination, and primary vaccination reflects those first vaccines that became available at the end of 2020 and into 2021.
So that's one dose of Johnson & Johnson or two doses of one of the mRNA vaccines. There are a few other vaccines that are becoming available now. The primary series of vaccination is that initial vaccination. And that was remarkably lifesaving. Everybody at Cornell is required to have a primary vaccination.
The other terminology that we're using is up-to-date vaccination. And this is also what the CDC uses. And by definition, up-to-date vaccination means that you've had every vaccine for which you are eligible. So all adults are now eligible for a booster shot. So if you had two mRNA vaccines, that's a third dose. If you had one Johnson & Johnson, that's a second dose.
So every adult is eligible to have a booster. And boy, do we encourage people to do that. It makes a big difference. Even if you've had COVID, even if you've had your primary series, being boosted has a huge impact. If you're greater than 50 years of age or if you have a medical condition that makes you more vulnerable, you're eligible now to have yet another booster.
And I think, in the country, there are probably only about a third of the population that has availed themselves of that booster, if they're eligible. To be up-to-date with your vaccinations, you should have every vaccine for which you're eligible. And really importantly, there are going to be new vaccines. There'll be vaccines this fall. There'll be vaccines that are specific for Omicron, the variant that is circulating now.
I really urge you, when you become eligible, get that booster. So the notion for vaccination on campus. And it's practical. We're not going to be able to track everybody who's eligible for every booster and whether we've done that. But we can strongly, strongly urge everybody to get the booster when they become eligible for that booster.
So that's the first major tenet, and I'd say that's the most important thing that we can do, that individuals can do to protect their health. Testing remains important. That as Mike said, and as you all know, COVID is in our environment. If somebody has COVID before they leave for Ithaca, it makes so much sense for them and so much sense for us that they know about it, that they get tested, that they isolate, and they complete the required isolation before they travel to campus.
That's going to be laid out in the student message. It's going to be-- the students will be reminded of this-- in particular, town halls. They will get additional messaging from both student and campus life and also from Cornell Health to get tested before they leave for Ithaca. Now, many of us have been away for parts of the summer. Before you come back to work, even if you are an Ithaca resident, it makes sense to do an antigen test.
So they will be freely available to everybody in the community. All you've got to do is show your ID, and you can get an antigen test. For students who have tested at home and they test negative, we want them to test again when they come back to Ithaca because as we all know, it's possible to acquire COVID during transit and during that period of time.
So testing, even though, as Mike said, and I'll mention in a moment, we're phasing out this very robust surveillance testing that did so well for us in 2020 when vaccines were not available. We're going to be phasing that out. Antigen testing will still be available. The test sites will be open through the end of August. And you can pick up an antigen test there. After the test sites are no longer open, there'll be distribution centers for antigen testing for everybody in the community.
So that brings us to the testing program itself. Right now, as I'm sure all of you know, there is no obligatory surveillance testing. There is no obligatory PCR testing for any member of our community. There is supplemental testing. That will stay in place through the end of August.
At that point, there will be the availability of PCR testing for students who need it through Cornell Health. We're aware that the mall site is going to stay open, at least into the near future. And that will be available for all members of our community. The need for PCR testing has really diminished. It's diminished because it's no longer necessary for travel.
We provided the service for people who were traveling. There are certain places in the world where you need a PCR test, but the requirement is actually to get that test at your airport of departure. So having PCR testing available at Cornell provides no added value for individuals who want to travel.
Additionally, PCR testing takes time. Omicron transmits quickly. If somebody is symptomatic, getting an antigen test and knowing right away, in 15 minutes rather than 36 hours, makes a big difference. So we feel that, at this point, we're really proud of the testing program we created, but it is no longer necessary to meet our goals of doing what we need to do to protect the health and safety of the campus.
Mike mentioned masking. Masks work. They make a difference. And it's really important, if you have a concern, to wear a well-fitted mask. As Mike mentioned, and as we'll talk a little bit more about, the etiquette. If people are worried and there's an environment where people ask each other to mask, we hope that people will be respectful of that. But there will not be a mask mandate.
Be slightly different in New York City, that there is a different level of transmission in New York City. So for example, at Weill Cornell, the medical school, there is a mask mandate that we will be following this very closely. But right now, masks are encouraged, but are not required. So those are the three major tenets-- vaccination, testing, and masking.
But the other thing which is really important is to think about the etiquette. We're going to be advertising this. It's etiquette for students. It's etiquette for all members of our community. And I'd just like to go over quickly how we're going to be presenting this.
First and foremost, and really, really important, is if you are ill, don't go to class, don't go to work, don't go to social gatherings. If you're ill and you think you have symptoms that might suggest COVID, get an antigen test. They're available. You can test. It takes 15 minutes. And if your antigen test is positive, report that on the Daily Check.
It will help us understand prevalence of infection on campus. Be really important for students if they need accommodations. So revealing your positive tests through the Daily Check. Again, that's privileged health information that it doesn't get distributed to anywhere else, but it will help us keep track.
And for students, if they're particularly ill, they should contact Cornell Health. For members of the community, if you're feeling particularly ill, this is still potentially a serious illness. Make sure that you get in touch with your health care provider. And that's always been the case.
So what if you're positive? Report it in the Daily Check. Like I said, this helps us keep an eye on what is going on on campus and also help students as they need academic support. Tell others if you're positive. If you're a student, tell your roommates. If you've been in an event and you've been having close contact with friends and with others, let them know because it's really important for people to know that they've been in contact with somebody with COVID.
They may be planning to visit an elderly relative, and they might need to know so that they can test themselves. So this is part of the etiquette is being personally responsible for your own behavior, but also for letting others know so that they can make the right choice for themselves. Wear a mask at all times if you're positive, of course. We're going to, as Mike said, have students isolate in place. They need to wear masks.
They wear masks while they're positive and isolating during that first five-day period. Even though they may be feeling better or have no fever, be able to be out and about after the first five days, the second five-day period to complete that 10-day period, masks are really, really essential. And we're going to be asking students as they isolate to limit their time outside to just getting meals and going to medical care if they need it.
And we're asking them to be very, very mindful about cleaning surfaces and, like I said, informing others and wearing a mask. And also, roommates of individuals who are COVID-positive should wear a mask when they're in their room with their roommate. They should get tested because we know that they're contacts. And they should get tested again several days later. It becomes really, really important for people to know.
And of course, if somebody is symptomatic, they should test immediately. Now, we will have provisions for roommates of individuals who are particularly medically vulnerable. We'll have those conversations with the students so that they'll be able to seek accommodation if necessary. But we're really restricting that to individuals where the risk of COVID is very, very different than what the risk is to the rest of the general community.
So that's the outline of what it is that we're going to be doing. I know it took a while. I know that there are things that are different than what we were doing before. I just want to mention that we are going to continue to keep an eye on what's happening. We have teams of individuals that have been continuing to meet, even though the summer has been much more quiet.
And we're going to pay attention to what's going on. I think there may be questions later on about different variants, and I'll address those at the time. But I'll just end by saying please get vaccinated when you're eligible for a vaccine. Remember to be mindful of others.
Inform others if you're positive. Wear a mask. And really begin to develop this notion that we're going to be living with this virus, but also, we have to follow the etiquette principles that we're putting forward. So hopefully that was helpful, and I'll turn it back to you, Joel.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you very much, Gary, and thank you, Mike, for your opening remarks. We'll now spend the next 35 minutes addressing some of the many questions that were submitted. Many of the questions were similar of nature, so we've tried to group them in a manner so that we can address as many of them as possible in the time that we have.
Mike, I'll start first with a question to you. It really goes back to our overall approach for the semester. The question is, how will Cornell balance the desire for students and alumni to feel normal on campus, balance that with the health and well-being of at-risk faculty and staff?
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Yeah. That's an easy one. This is the key question and exactly our challenge is, as people can see from the questions submitted and from other questions we'll answer, there's a great differential in a sense-- in the sense of how we should be responding to this. Some people feel like we should try and normalize even more than we have.
Others feel that we're putting them at risk by doing what we've suggested. The only thing I can say is we're really trying to balance the realistic expectations for what we can expect from students and others in their behavior while trying desperately to experience a normal on-campus college life.
And we're trying to balance that with taking precautions to preserve the health of the most vulnerable among us and trying to, as I said earlier, limit the virus and the number of infected people as much as we can. I will say, as Gary has said and I said before, the virus is all around us.
If you're living a somewhat normal or even close to normal daily life, you are within six feet of people that are unmasked on a daily basis. The ability to limit and to prevent that, we don't have. Now, there are some people that would like-- that are not living that kind of life and are protecting themselves so much that they're alarmed by what we're proposing.
But we do think-- I want to again emphasize as I did in my answer that if you are masking yourself, that action confers an enormous amount of protection against infection. If you are vaccinated and boosted, that does not prevent infection, but it has an enormous impact on the seriousness of the disease associated with infection.
So all of those have colored our trying to balance our missions, providing a normal campus experience for our students, providing the kind of research, discovery, outreach environment that we need as part of our missions with living with this virus, trying to get everybody to act as a community, thinking about vulnerable people in the community, responding appropriately, and pursuing this kind of etiquette that Gary has described.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Mike. Now I'd like to turn, Gary, to you. It's a vaccination question. I know you answered it in your remarks, but there are still many questions coming in that I think it's an opportunity for underscoring this point. The question is, is Cornell requiring boosters, and will it require the fourth booster for all students, staff, and faculty once it becomes available to the public?
GARY KORETSKY: Yeah, so thanks for the question, Joel, because this is critical, and it's critical that everybody be aware of both the requirements and what is suggested. And I'll just remind because it is confusing around the nomenclature. So the CDC talks about primary vaccination. That's having that first series of shots, if they're mRNA vaccines, or the single Johnson & Johnson.
Everybody at Cornell is required to have had that primary vaccination to be a student or to be on campus, to be an employee, unless they have an exemption. So that was in the-- that was the case once the vaccines became freely available, and that remains the case. There is no absolute Cornell requirement to have a booster, a third booster, a fourth booster, a fifth, or a sixth booster as those become available.
The CDC uses the nomenclature that you are up-to-date with your COVID vaccination if you've received every vaccine for which you are eligible. And so for everybody who is an adult in the country right now, that's having an additional shot. Strongly recommended. Urgently recommended. For others, having yet another shot- and like I said, in the fall, they'll be get other boosters available.
They will not be required. We're not tracking it. And this is practical. There are going to be multiple, multiple boosters that will be available for different populations. We just urge everybody to pay attention personally for what's available to them and then avail themselves of those boosters when they become available because they have been truly lifesaving.
I know there are a lot of questions. People are very disappointed. You get a measles shot, you don't get measles. That vaccine prevents the disease. The COVID vaccines do not prevent getting infected, but they are remarkable in preventing people from getting seriously potentially lethal ill.
And that's what we were hoping for. We were, of course, hoping that it would prevent all infection. But it was a remarkable achievement, and I think we should all be taking advantage of it.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Gary. I'm going to stick with you for another question. This is about testing. There have been a few questions in the live chat around our relying on antigen tests. My understanding is that antigen tests don't pick up all cases, especially asymptomatic ones. Why are you relying only on these less reliable tests?
GARY KORETSKY: Yes. And again, a lot of this is practicality and also because of the rapidity of antigen tests, how easy it is for people to get them, and how easy it is for people to use them. And none of the tests for COVID are perfect. That there are individuals who have COVID and test negative, both with PCR testing and with antigen testing.
The practicality, the availability and the speed, makes it really important to be using antigen testing. And you can antigen test today, and you can antigen test tomorrow. If you become symptomatic, you can antigen test. We feel like these become the mainstay, simple, easy things, easy to distribute and easy to use. And they will provide us with the information that we feel will be really, really valuable to the community.
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Let me just add-- if I could just add, Joel, that listening to the question, I mean, one of the things that antigen tests do do is pick up the individuals that are most infectious. So they are the people that are putting others most at risk. It is true that-- and as Gary says, neither PCR nor antigen tests are perfect, particularly if you have-- you're asymptomatic, you don't have a lot of virus in your nose where you're swabbing. And of course, that means you're also not spreading it.
GARY KORETSKY: Yeah. And I'll just add one other thing, Joel, sorry. And that is, because of the way the PCR testing works, if you've had COVID, it's not advised, and in fact, it's not meaningful, to get a PCR test for the next 90 days. And the reason for that, and this is what we've always been talking about, the individuals have become exempt when we were having surveillance testing for 90 days because the PCR test will pick up people who had COVID, but don't have active COVID.
You might get re-infected within that 90-day period. The PCR test won't be useful, but an antigen test will be useful because it looks for other material. It actually looks for the protein, not for the nucleic acid. So for a number of reasons, we pivoted to antigen testing. It just seems like it makes a lot more sense for the community.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Gary. Lisa, I'm going to turn to you for two questions around academic support. The first asks, will doctoral students be penalized for missing time on campus if they are ill and need to quarantine? Will the university offer significant illness accommodation letters for students? And if a student is experiencing long-term symptoms consistent with long COVID, will professors also be directed to be lenient?
LISA NISHII: OK. Thank you, Joel. So no student, graduate or undergraduate, should be penalized for heeding health guidelines to avoid class, work, or any other gatherings if they are ill. As Gary said, if you're symptomatic, pick up an antigen test as soon as possible and get tested. If you're particularly sick, contact Cornell Health for a consult.
Really important is is if you are positive, upload your results to Daily Check immediately. This is really important because that's what triggers the temporary accommodation process that this question is about. You'll then receive an email with detailed guidance for your isolation period, including when you can expect to return to campus activities and also what to do if, after five full days from your test date or when your symptoms began, that is day zero, you have a fever or your symptoms are not getting better.
You'll also receive a temporary accommodation letter from the Student Disability Services Office for you to share with your instructors and/or your advisors letting them know that you'll not be-- you won't be able to participate in academic activities until after the date that's specified in your isolation guidance. And of course, this letter asks that instructors and advisors grant you the extra flexibility and other reasonable accommodations you may need.
I'd like to remind you that in many cases, if not most, connecting to class via Zoom will not be an option for students who are in isolation because many of our classrooms lack the specific audio and visual equipment needed to support this. We ask that you work directly with your instructors to get what you need to keep up with class. And depending on the type of class, this can really take on many different forms.
Please keep in mind that the SDS Office will not send this letter directly to your instructors. Students are asked to forward this letter themselves to their instructors and advisors. If you have an on-campus job or you work in a lab, you should inform your supervisor that you cannot go to work until this isolation period is complete. And you can provide them with the expected return date that's indicated in your isolation guidance letter.
Cornell Law students should coordinate directly with the law school dean of students and not engage directly with their faculty about accommodations. So that's a different format for law school students. As to the part of the question about students who may experience long-term symptoms or long COVID, they should contact Student and Disability Services. Depending on the review of the medical circumstances, SDS will determine whether additional academic accommodations may be needed.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Lisa. One additional follow-up specifically from a graduate student instructor. The question is, what is the protocol for graduate student instructors who test positive for COVID?
LISA NISHII: OK. So like I said in response to the prior question, if you test positive, submit the result to Daily Check right away. That will trigger that temporary accommodation process. And you can share that with your instructors, faculty advisors, et cetera. All instructors-- and this is really both for faculty and graduate students and instructional teams when there's a team teaching a course-- should have a plan in place for what they will do if they are sick and A, can teach remotely, or B, cannot teach remotely.
If you are part of an instructional team, please make sure you contact your team to tell them when you expect to be released from isolation so that you can coordinate with them to cover instructional needs for the course. Also, if you interacted closely with them in the three days or so prior to testing positive, it's important that they know that they may have been exposed.
If you are a sole instructor and plan to teach remotely, please be sure to contact your department chair to discuss whether there might be creative ways for you to continue having your students attend class in-person while you are in isolation. I've heard of a range of different ways in which this happened over the last year, year and a half. So please do that.
And although teaching remotely is obviously preferable to canceling class sessions, we still have this institutional priority to maintain in-person teaching as much as possible. And that's why we ask that you discuss your plan with your department chair. Keep in mind also-- this isn't immediately obvious, I think, to some-- that it can be difficult for students to participate in your class remotely via Zoom in between in-person classes because they need to find a quiet place on campus from which they can participate via Zoom.
So it's not quite as easy as it might seem on the surface. Obviously, with that said, we recognize that it may make the most sense for you to teach remotely, if you are able, while in isolation. Any request to use remote instruction for more than two class sessions need to be brought by the department chair to the dean. We need to have situational awareness about what's happening. Thank you.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Lisa. Gary, there have been a few questions posted around Cornell Tech. Is there going to be a different set of processes and protocols for Cornell Tech this coming fall?
GARY KORETSKY: Yeah, so the answer is the principles at Cornell Tech are exactly like the principals in Ithaca. And that is to put protocols in place that maximize the health and safety of the campus and allowing as much activity that's normal activity as possible. We have worked completely in concert with Cornell Tech from the very beginning of the pandemic. We've done all of the testing. We talk frequently with our colleagues at Cornell Tech.
There will be a requirement for students to test before they come back to Cornell Tech. And there'll be antigen testing available for them once they're there, just like in Ithaca. There may well, however, be some differences, in particular around masking. And that will be because New York City is different from Ithaca. Right now, transmission in New York City is higher than it is in Ithaca.
There's actually guidance from the health department in New York City that differs from the Tompkins County Health Department guidance. So we will be following that. Cornell Tech will be following that. So there may be some nuances that are different locally. However, the principles will remain the same.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Gary. Let's now turn to the many questions we've received around masking. And I've got a question for each of our panelists. And Mike, you'll actually get two.
So let me start, Mike, with you. And again, this was addressed in the opening remarks, but perhaps additional context will help our faculty, staff, and students on the town hall today. Will masks be required in classrooms? How can faculty effectively set expectations regarding masks within their own classrooms?
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Yeah. So this is a common question. And we are not mandating this in the class. We are strongly encouraging it. And we're also messaging to students and to faculty and staff that individuals should be responsive, as part of this COVID etiquette, as part our community response to this, to others' requests about masking.
So it is my full expectation-- that's in every message that we set out. It's my send out. It's my full expectation that the great majority of individuals will comply when requested if there's a reasonable request and a reasonable-- there's a rationale for that request. The reality-- and that goes for not just classroom, but department meetings, seminars, et cetera, where these kinds of requests can be made.
However, one cannot take punitive actions if someone does not comply. And I do want to emphasize two points again. One is the degree of protection that you provide to yourself, if you are wearing a mask, and you can distance. And particularly, faculty that are at a distance and lecturing to students that are masks are-- that provides an extremely unlikely scenario for infection.
And then the other aspect of this is the fact that from a practical standpoint, we're going to have many, many activities on campus where masks are not worn. And that is the reality in today's life, both on campus and outside of campus. And our ability to fool ourselves and think that we can exclude the virus from campus by providing everybody with a mask I just think does not work in this endemic situation.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Mike. Lisa, next one is to you. If the mask mandate is to be lifted, will there be a virtual option for mandatory activities, like class? And if a student gets infected while unmasked in class, would that change anything about this policy?
LISA NISHII: Sure. So the short answer is no, not for classes. Classes will be taught in-person as they were last year, with a few exceptions. The question about what if a student gets infected while unmasked in class is a bit tricky to the extent that, like Mike was just saying, there are so many other contexts in which an individual could have been infected, making it really difficult to attribute transmission to the class.
With that said, we've been saying this throughout the course of this pandemic. We will continue to carefully watch prevalence here in our community as well as nationally and globally for evidence of significant trends that might suggest that we might need to evolve our strategy yet again. And we've said this many, many times before about the protection that wearing a mask provides.
It's actually about-- the estimate is it reduces the risk of transmission, if you are wearing a mask, by about 80%. And it reduces risk of transmission by even more than that if other people are also wearing well-fitting masks. So that's really the best way to keep yourself safe in the classroom setting.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Lisa. Mary, the next question is for you. If there is not going to be a blanket mask mandate for masks in faculty and staff offices, are we allowed to ask people who come into our office to wear a mask?
MARY OPPERMAN: Yeah, thanks for the question, Joel, and to the person that submitted it. So this has been the case for a while now. And what we've found is that because people have different personal circumstances and needs, that we do have a part of our population that still is wearing a mask on a regular basis and would like the people that they interact with to wear the mask as well.
So it is perfectly reasonable to ask somebody who's coming into your office if they'll-- to please don their mask. If they do not want to because there is no mask mandate, then my suggestion is that you look for alternate ways to do that business. So you could have a phone call or a Zoom. You might feel comfortable to move to a bigger space if you're in a small space. That may be part of your concern.
Or take a walk and have your meeting outside. But I will tell you that this has already been in place, and people have been incredibly respectful of one another's choices. And I would recommend that we continue that.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Mary. Gary, to you next, and then Mike, I'll come back to you. Gary, if the mask mandate is to be lifted, what will the university do to ensure that students or others within the second half of their 10-day precautionary period will actually be wearing masks in shared spaces?
GARY KORETSKY: Yeah, Joel. Really important. This is the guidance. This is the expectation. This is part of the COVID etiquette that we're talking about. We really need to normalize this.
We need to make sure that this becomes part of our behaviors, that it becomes incredibly difficult to be policing this. There really is no way. If students are out and about or adults or employees are out and about after having had COVID, the expectation, the language, the restrictions, the guidance is to wear a mask for the next five days. And we're just going to have to depend on people behaving as members of our community.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Gary. And Mike, can we expect Cornell leadership and senior administrators to set the example and lead the way by wearing masks? It is proven to keep our community safe, yet rarely do we see anyone wearing masks. How will you lead by example?
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Yeah. I would say that it is absolutely a reasonable expectation that Cornell leadership model this etiquette that we've talked about. And by that, I mean that everyone, including leadership and particularly leadership, as is pointed out in the question, make sure that they're masked when there is any reason to suspect that they may have been exposed and could transmit the virus, that leadership dons a mask whenever anyone requests them because of potential vulnerability and that leadership masks in situations where there's density, it's likely to be a situation where a virus can spread.
And by so doing, they model this kind of behavior of responding to appropriate situations and appropriate requests. So I think all of that is absolutely reasonable. Is it reasonable to ask the president, the provost, and others to wear a mask while out in the open air and posing no risk and being under no risk? I really don't-- I don't think so. That may be what some have desired.
But I think the key thing here is, as we've said over and over again, this is a community effort. We all need to try and do what we can to limit the exposure of all of us to infection. And that absolutely goes in spades for leadership.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Mike. Mary, a question for you around the broad issue of working remotely. Will there be any university-wide policy on working remotely? It seems like policies and permissions vary widely across campus and that regular remote options are available.
MARY OPPERMAN: Yeah, so thanks for the question. And I do want to acknowledge that when we were coming back into the workplace after everyone went out, it was a bit of a rush to figure out how best to continue to get work done. This was at a time when the pandemic was still a very serious risk. And we made the decision to decentralize-- under guidelines, to decentralize how we thought about work.
And so just to remind everyone, we have certain jobs that are fully on-premise. That's the only way to get that work done. That work is fully here. And a large portion of our staff population is here on a regular basis, doing that on-premise work.
Then we have work that is primarily on-campus, but does allow for some flexibility with some time at home. And we call those hybrid opportunities. And then there are some jobs that can be done fully remotely.
And so what we're do-- what we will be doing and what HR, under the leadership of Christine Lovely will be doing, is taking a look at our current practices and how we consider those different alternatives and talking with the leadership across the campus for the best way to move forward to create an ongoing set of procedures that both address the issues of consistency and recognize that there are significant differences across the campus for the work that's done college by college and department by department. So that will be considered in the coming year.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Mary. Mike, there have been a lot of questions posted today about policies for visitors. What policies will be in place for outside visitors visiting campus, including for overnight stays in the residence halls, for example, for prospective student events?
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Yeah, I'll answer that in a second, Joel. I do want to make-- I'd suggest that I see a number of questions about monkeypox, and maybe after this week--
JOEL MALINA: I will absolutely devote that next week.
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: OK. So I guess the other comment I would make is I want to make it clear to everyone that, as in the past, there's been a lot of sharing of protocols across the Ivy Plus, across lots of our peers. What we're outlining today is the norm of all of those peers. There are slight nuances in differences, but in general, this idea of strongly urging masks, but not mandating it, is a consensus response to current conditions.
The idea, I know-- which Duke and Cornell were the two leaders in terms of surveillance testing on campus. They stopped their surveillance testing last spring. A number of these issues that we've outlined today are what you're seeing across campus. So that also means students visiting here, college students visiting here, are almost certainly under vaccine mandates as we've described. We haven't spent a lot of time yet on visitor policy.
And I do-- before answering the question, I want to make sure that our implementation team looks at all of the events that are going to occur on campus and makes a reasoned decision about how we do those, whether we-- and this, of course, applies to sporting events and others, whether we have a vaccine check, a mandate for those, a primary vaccine mandate for those, et cetera. But you'll hear more about that in terms of events on campus and visitors on campus as we go forward.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Mike. And we will now, with our remaining four minutes, focus on monkeypox, which is on a lot of our minds. Gary, I'll start with you. There has been a confirmed case of monkeypox in Tompkins County. Are there discussions on how to handle this if there is an outbreak on campuses?
GARY KORETSKY: Yeah. So Joel, important question. And of course, the short answer is yes, that we're mindful of this. We're thinking about it. I'll make a few points.
Monkeypox is not COVID. It's a very, very different disease. It's a viral disease, but a very different disease. Just a little bit of information. It's a disease that's endemic. It's not a brand new disease.
It's been in countries in Africa over years. But what's new, of course, is its spread. So it's now been identified in 76 countries. I think there are about 16,000 individuals, importantly. Five individuals have died from COVID. That's-- from monkeypox. That's tragic, but it's not nearly what we saw at the beginning of COVID.
The other thing that is critically important to remember is the route of transmission. Completely different virus. It gets transmitted by close contact of an intimate contact, largely. Also, the thing that was just so difficult with COVID was that you could transmit the disease when you were asymptomatic. That doesn't happen largely with monkeypox as well, that it's symptomatic individuals that are able to transmit the disease to others.
That's not to say it's unimportant. It's incredibly important that we're aware of this. Cornell Health is aware of it. There's a monkeypox page on their website. We talk regularly.
One of the nice things about COVID, if one can think of a nice thing about COVID, is developing a relationship with Tompkins County Health. We talk to them every week. And we are completely in sync with Tompkins County Health about how to be on the lookout for monkeypox, what to do. There may be a need for individuals to be isolated, that we do have a population, of course, just like every college campus in the country, where individuals may be at risk.
And we're mindful of that. We'll watch for that. But it's not the same as COVID, that we'll have a very, very different response to monkeypox than we did with COVID.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Gary. We do have time, I think, for one more question. Lisa, it's about international student activities. Last semester, we were given a green light to start international student activities. What is the current thinking around study trips over winter break, as plans need to be solidified between August and October to be successful?
LISA NISHII: Great question. Yes. The expectation is that students can continue to plan on international activities. The Office of Global Learning has selected a robust portfolio for the academic year for those students who are interested in study abroad opportunities. They've used curricular health and safety and other strategic criteria. I realize some graduate students may be traveling for research purposes. There are a few things that you should keep in mind.
We are still in a pandemic. You should check host and country policies and laws in place to manage COVID-19. These might include limitations on regional travel, lockdowns, border closures, and so forth. And if your hope is to study abroad, you should look into whether courses at the host institution might be taught online instead of in person.
If you think you're unable to adapt to the policies that you learn about, you might want to consider delaying your international study trip into a later time or consider a different location if it makes sense given your learning goals. Remember that personal travel while abroad is appealing for a lot of students, but because of the pandemic, you might have to adjust your expectations for public health and safety reasons, including restrictions that might be imposed on you by the host institution.
Because policies are constantly shifting, you should expect changes up to and even throughout your time abroad. And so you should keep checking. A really good place for you to go for more information is the Office of Global Learning's website. It's abroad.globallearning.cornell.edu. There's a lot of really useful information there.
JOEL MALINA: Thank you, Lisa. It is 1:00. I want to thank our panelists, but especially all of you that have spent the last hour with us. As Mike mentioned at the start, there will be messages going out this afternoon with all of this information.
Additional information available on the covid.cornell.edu website. Thank you, and we will be in touch as the semester proceeds. Have a great afternoon.
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Panelists discuss the university’s COVID-19 guidance for the start of the fall semester and answer questions.
Mike Kotlikoff, Provost
Gary Koretzky, Vice Provost for Academic Integration
Lisa Nishii, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education
Mary Opperman, Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer
Joel Malina, Vice President for University Relations