MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Welcome, everyone. Welcome to this town hall. Thanks very much for joining us. I want to introduce our panelists today. We have Dean Lorin Warnick, the Austin O. Hooey Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. Many of you know that our testing laboratory has been built in the veterinary college. And we're very fortunate to have the diagnostic lab as part of our veterinary college, which does diagnosis and surveillance at scale, and has been able to scale up for this surveillance testing in collaboration with our partners at Cayuga Health System.
And I want to introduce Vice Provost Lisa Nishii, who's Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. Lisa, as many of you know, has been overseeing our curriculum and revising much of our curriculum for the fall semester, and now beginning to think about the spring semester. And then finally, I'm very pleased to introduce and have with us JT Baker, who is our student elected trustee. JT is a senior this year, and JT is here to give us a lot of the student perspective on what's been going on.
So before turning this back to Wendy Wolford, our host, I just want to give a couple of shout outs. Obviously, things have been going quite well for the last several weeks. And I do think that there are a number of people that are really responsible for things going so well. The first group of people, of course, are our students, because we hear so much in the press around the country that states that students really aren't capable of socially distancing, obeying rules, that sort of things. I've been on campus the last several weeks constantly, and I really see students social distancing, wearing masks, doing all the things that we've asked them to do, and taking a lot of pride in that. So I really want to begin by thanking our students.
The second group that I want to thank are our employees, particularly those employees that are serving our students and are sort of frontlines in this effort-- our dining workers, our custodians, individuals in our dorms and our dining halls. Also our Statler workers, who are taking care of students in isolation and quarantine, and then finally, the individuals in the laboratory, both individuals sampling our students, the people that we go to when we get sampled, and the individuals that are working around the clock in the laboratory to do the PCR and do the detection. So with that, I'll turn it back to Wendy. But I think we all owe those groups of people a great amount of thanks. Wendy?
WENDY WOLFORD: Thanks, Mike. And good afternoon, everybody. It's great to have you here. So we got many questions in advance. We got about 50 questions in advance, some of which were just people saying thank you, which was really nice. The rest of the questions, we'll try to address them as we go as possible. But as always, of course, submit questions in the Q&A box, and panelists will answer them as they can. And also, we'll try to incorporate them into the oral questions. All of the slides presented will be available afterwards, and the recording will be on the COVID website. Those were two questions that came up beforehand.
OK, we're going to start with Lorin. Many of the questions submitted beforehand were on testing, understandably. So the first one is that we seem to be doing so well, in terms of our low positive numbers. Will testing frequencies be reduced at any point, and if so, what is the threshold for that to occur?
LORIN WARNICK: Thanks, Wendy. I really appreciate being able to represent the COVID-19 testing committee and the laboratory and sampling teams that are conducting the testing program for the campus. It's been an amazing effort that has involved literally hundreds of people across the university to pull this together. And I thank everyone who's pitched in to make it happen.
Before commenting on the testing frequency, I thought it might be good to just very quickly summarize where we're at right now. And that's a good context for where we're going. So as you know, the PCR testing is being done, as Mike said, in a new laboratory that's housed in the College of Veterinary Medicine. And this new lab was done as a collaboration with Cayuga Health Systems. And it was really built on the expertise of the Animal Health Diagnostic Center, which conducts well over a million tests a year. And building on that experience, Dr. Diego Diel, Kim Potter, Francois Elvinger, and their team were able to put this amazing lab together. Next slide, please.
As was reported in an earlier town hall, we first started with arrival and baseline testing. This was done from May through the end of August. And had nearly 19,000 individual people tested, with 31 positive. The surveillance testing started in earnest on September 3rd. And to date, that surveillance testing samples have amounted to nearly 94,000 samples collected and tested. And of those, 28 have been positive. So that's 0.03% of the samples tested. And that represents about 22,000 individuals, roughly 17,000 students and about 5,000 staff and faculty.
During that same time period, there's also been tests done by Cornell Health if people had symptoms, if they were contacts of test positive individuals, or adaptive testing. And that's been just over 800 people tested, with 40 positive, or about 5%. And of course, we would expect the percent positive to be higher for that group because of having symptoms or having been in contact with someone who was infected. Next slide, please.
So this slide shows the number of positive cases per day going back to August 17th. And this includes both surveillance test results, as well as for cause tests. And the slide actually shows really two important messages. One is a cautionary story, which is you see starting about the end of August, as case numbers increases. It shows how quickly this virus can spread in the right circumstances. And you've seen, either from Tompkins County Health Department press releases or from university messages, some of the reasons that led to that spread.
But the other message is a very positive one. And that shows the success of the public health program on campus, and that, with wearing masks, social distancing, limiting gatherings and limiting travel, and combining that with testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and quick follow-up, that the spread can be limited. So thank you. We can stop the slides now.
So back to the question on sampling frequency. It's good where we're at now. And I think it really speaks to how everybody's dedicated themselves to make this all work. But there are some changes on the horizon. There may be some differences in what kind of gatherings are allowed. We'll have cooler weather and more people indoors. The local K through 12 schools, some of those are being opened for in-person classes.
So because of this, it's the feeling of the testing committee right now that we should stay the course and build on the success we've had so far and keep our current test frequency for likely through the next two months, until Thanksgiving. The case numbers, of course, will be evaluated over time through the fall, and then working with Cornell Health, Tompkins County Health Department, and Cayuga Medical, we'll make a decision about the future. But we think that, in the intercession, after Thanksgiving and during the semester break, testing should continue for sure. But we may make some adjustments in how frequently it's done. So that's where we stand right now and what we see for the future coming up. So thanks, Wendy.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK, great. So can you just elaborate a little bit on that last part there, about surveillance testing continuing for students and staff who may be here after Thanksgiving, over the winter, and even into the start of the new semester? Will the testing capacity and facilities continue?
LORIN WARNICK: Yeah, so that's a good question. The same sort of sampling approach and laboratory capacity and everything will be available during that time. And as we know more about how many students are staying in the area, how many are traveling away, that kind of thing, then we'll make a decision about the frequency of sampling. But it'll be a similar infrastructure to what we have right now.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK. And a quick question from Carl Frank. I know you've answered this before, but can you just really quickly explain again what adaptive testing is.
LORIN WARNICK: Yeah, so adaptive testing is something that we're doing at Cornell where when the health department identifies contacts through contact tracing, there are individuals who may be part of the network of a positive case, say, living in the same area or working in the same unit and that kind of thing, who are not classified as contacts, but we still think it would be a good idea to do extra testing. And so that's where adaptive testing is used to get an extra sample in addition to what would be done through the normal surveillance.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK, thanks. Here's a question that I've had myself, and it came up beforehand. We're entering flu season or cold season. What happens with the Daily Check if you have a symptom that you really believe is not a COVID symptom? You think it's allergy or it's a cold. You have a cough. What happens with the Daily Check and with testing?
LORIN WARNICK: Yeah, so everybody coming to campus and, of course, all students should be doing the Daily Check. And if they have symptoms, they should answer that question as a yes. And that will lead, for students, a conversation with Cornell Health, for employees, a conversation with Cayuga Medical Center. And there'll be a medical professional who will evaluate the situation and advise on whether it might be related to COVID, whether they should go to the mall for testing, that kind of thing.
Now, importantly, if it's determined that that's something like allergies that could have similar symptoms but is not COVID-19, once that initial conversation has been had, then the next time you go into the Daily Check, it'll lead you through a algorithm that deals with those more chronic situations. So you don't have to keep calling up day after day about the same thing. So that's all built into the system.
Very importantly is, of course, not to come to campus if you're sick. And if someone is ill and wants to get tested, they should not come to one of our regular surveillance sampling sites but should go to the-- for faculty and staff, for example, could go to the Cayuga Mall to get a sample there.
WENDY WOLFORD: Great. Thanks, Lorin. Mike, can I throw one to you about flu season and how should faculty and staff treat flu season and what sort of guidance is available?
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Well, everybody should get a flu vaccine. We're providing flu vaccine on campus. And one of the proposals now, and I think you'll see in the next couple of weeks, flu stations set up near our testing stations. So it's really important that we get immunity on campus to flu. And I would urge everybody to get to get vaccinated for flu. The flu vaccine is not 100% effective, but it is very, very effective. And the concordance of the flu season with our ongoing pandemic raises significant challenges for us, as is mentioned in the last question and Lorin's answer around diagnosis, around treatment, et cetera. So this is mandatory for individuals coming to campus. And everybody should get a flu vaccine as soon as possible.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK, thanks. Back to Lorin about people modifying their testing days-- so one person wrote beforehand, some months I'm on campus three times. Other months I don't come to campus at all. What should I do for testing? Can I make a test for a day when I know I'll be on campus or for the day prior? And David Williamson asks if we can change our testing dates to align with our teaching schedule.
LORIN WARNICK: Yeah, so there's several options for people. And this has been one of the most frequent questions is the first, when you go into the Daily Check, there is an option to change your testing day. So that would be the first thing to try, to see if you can align it with your schedule.
The second thing is, say, if you are in a testing schedule that doesn't match with how frequently you come to campus-- so let's say somebody is scheduled once a week, but they're really here very rarely. That person could talk to their HR rep and be changed to the every other week schedule rather than once a week.
And then the third thing is if someone, especially for kind of one-off situations where the testing schedule just doesn't align or people have family commitments or other things that makes it impossible to come in, just let a department chair, supervisor, or your unit or college HR group know so that as they get notification that tests were missed, they know already that there's an explanation for that. And then there wouldn't be any adverse consequences in that case.
So I think those options will allow most people to fit into the schedule they need. And then if there's individual one-off situations, those could be addressed.
I do want to remind everybody that East Hill Plaza has a testing site that is set up for faculty and staff specifically. And so that's a good one where you've got parking right nearby and can get in and out quickly for your test.
WENDY WOLFORD: And another one that just come up in the Q&A, if they're doing surveillance testing and the answer is negative, will they get any sort of response?
LORIN WARNICK: Yeah, so people are not being contacted individually in any way if they get a negative test result. So if you don't hear anything, that's good news. You can go into the Cayuga Health System's portal and check your results, as long as you remember your right login information and all that.
But you should assume if you don't hear back, then you've had a not-detected result. Go on with your work, school, whatever. And then, certainly, if there's a positive result, then there would be a call from Tompkins County Health Department to follow up on that.
WENDY WOLFORD: Thanks, Lorin. One last question on testing, what is the procedure if someone needs to miss a surveillance test due to some reason other than having COVID?
LORIN WARNICK: Yeah, it'd be what I mentioned before. Just let a supervisor, department chair, or your unit HR representative know that you had to miss a test, unforeseeable circumstances, that kind of thing. Now, if you miss on one day, I think there is some leeway to register the following day. So that could be tried. But if it's something where you're just not going to be able to get in for that test, then let someone know, so they know the reason for that.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK, thanks. Still related to testing but now moving to the dashboard, there were several questions that came in beforehand. And they sort of boiled down to two distinct things. We've gotten a lot of really good feedback on the dashboard. But some people wrote in to say that they believe that the state guidelines dictated that the 100 number should be calculated as a rolling total over 14 days, as opposed to going back to zero on every 15th day. So, Mike, can you clarify please?
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Sorry. Yes, we also thought that, and it would be a logical interpretation. But the State has been very clear. They issued new directives directly to the universities. They want these periods of blocks of time. So it does reset every 14 days. And we'll continue to be calculating it on that basis, which is what the State has asked us to do.
I would just say in a broader way, I mean, the State guidelines are more general guidelines for all colleges and universities in the state. We spent a lot of time thinking about our alert levels, the metrics behind those alert levels. And I would pay particular attention to that.
And then on the dashboard, I also saw a concern that we're not showing all of the data. We're only showing a subset of the data. And you can scroll back on the bar graph below and get previous data. We've just had some technical problems in showing all the data. If you show all the data, then the numbers get so small that you can't read it. And this was our workaround to be able to get as much data as possible.
But everything is there. All the information is there. And, obviously, our prevalence currently is very, very low. As Lorin said, we're now below, well below, 1%. And that's really great, great news. We're actually well below 0.1%, excuse me.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK, you answered my two dashboard questions at once. So I'm going to ask you one more question. Testing has been going so well. Prevalence is so low. There was a question about whether we will be easing restrictions on in-person gatherings or allowing for more types of gatherings. Can you respond to that, please?
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Yeah, yeah, it's a great question. And we do want to start to-- we've been all along really trying to balance two things. One is, of course, protecting the community and keeping prevalence low. On the other hand, creating a kind of experience for students, a community for students, that is important for residential instruction.
We will be now gradually beginning-- over the next couple of weeks, you'll be hearing some relaxations of some areas of campus life. So there'll be some facilities that will be opening by Student Campus Life on a selected, limited level.
Then you'll look forward to, as we go further in the semester, some activities that are open. So we've had no club activities or those kinds of activities heretofore. But those will start to be allowed again, consistent with our social distancing, mask wearing, and the total limit on the number of individuals that are involved.
So stay tuned for that. You'll start to hear that. And it's important to begin to, as much as possible, provide the kind of campus experience that we all want.
WENDY WOLFORD: So speaking of the student experience, a couple of questions for JT. Students are taking many, if not all, of their classes over Zoom from their apartments or dorm rooms or family residences.
Can you tell us a little bit about what your experience has been like this semester, or what you're hearing from your friends, and what Cornell can do to provide more of the social experience that's missing due to the absence of normal classroom interactions?
JT BAKER: Absolutely. Thank you for that question. And it's definitely been a very unique time being a student at Cornell. But I think one thing I want to mention, students are really appreciative that Cornell is open. I think that we're all fortunate and grateful to be back on campus when a lot of institutions decided not to go forward and to keep their campuses closed.
And, yes, it's a lot of Zoom. I personally have no in-person classes. So I'm on Zoom all the time, every day. And I'm ultimately in my apartment 24/7. And that's the first thing. I think a lot of students have this similar experience. And the first problem, I would say, is from a mental health standpoint. I think that Cornell needs to really take a intentional look at mental health from a professional standpoint. So the resources that we can have are more counselors, more faculty.
And then also proactive-- I think a lot of students may have mental health issues going on or be affected from that perspective and not even know. And I've kind of caught myself in that. A couple days ago, I just kind of felt in a slump. I wasn't feeling like myself. And I just realized, I've been in my apartment for two days straight on Zoom. I need to get out and work out. So really having faculty understand that, administration understand that.
And also that it's a community-wide effort. I think that faculty and professors have been doing a great job. They've been very flexible and understanding with students. And I think that's what we really need to continue doing during this time.
And to answer your question about the social piece, I think it's hard. I think a lot of students would love to be able to go to dining halls and go to social events and parties. But we realize we can't, not in today's environment. And we want to keep the community safe. There's just really no social aspect like that we're used to.
So the only other thing would be, my suggestion is virtual events. But then that kind of is counterintuitive because there's so much Zoom and so much computers that I don't think that would really be beneficial to students as well.
WENDY WOLFORD: Yeah, it's tough. I do know SCL has an incredible amount of virtual programming. So I hope students are able to access that and have been taking part. I'm wondering, in terms of your classes, if there are things you're finding to be easier about online classes than you thought would be, or any particular innovations that you wanted to highlight.
JT BAKER: Absolutely. I think two things, two positive things, is that classes online, especially when professors record their lectures or video notes, are very helpful. Students have time to go back and relearn material, spend deeper time on material that, otherwise, if it was in-person, they'd only get one time, and then that would be that. I think I love that as a student.
The second thing, professors sometimes make the assumption that because we are in this online environment and we're in quarantine, that students have more time than they usually would. In this system that I've even experienced and a lot of students have told me is that they've been overloaded with work and overloaded with videos and lectures, just due to the assumption that students are in quarantine. So professors think that OK, they can watch another 30 minutes of videos or another hour reading. And students sometimes feel overwhelmed by that.
So just keeping that in the back of faculty and staff mind is that students are taking full course loads. They're required to do the same amount of work, just it's in an online set. So those would be my two biggest points that I've seen so far.
WENDY WOLFORD: Yeah, and that's really helpful. Thanks, JT. Not to move from student well-being to exams too quickly, but a question for Lisa on exams. Do we know yet when the evening prelims will be held? And questions about whether faculty can hand out paper exams at that time, and questions about online exams and best practices for ensuring academic integrity, particularly for large online classes.
LISA NISHII: Sure. So the prelim schedule-- you asked about the evening prelim schedule. That has actually been posted and available for a few weeks now. I put it in one of the Q&A answers. But it's on the University Registrar's website.
As far as the part about can you hand out paper exams, if you're giving an in-person exam, yes, you can hand out paper exams. Of course, anybody who's handing out those exams, we recommend that you thoroughly disinfect your hands first. But overall, my understanding is that the risk of paper-based transmission is thought to be quite low. But I think to be prudent, maybe avoid having students pass the exams down the aisle, as sometimes we do.
I'm wondering because the prelim schedule has been available for a while, so the question may have actually been about semi-- or if people also have questions about semifinal exams. We have not yet posted the schedule for that. We're really looking carefully at the data right now. Now that the add period is closed, we have a clearer sense of the number of exams in person and also online that each student has.
And so the analytics team led by Professor David Shmoys is really working through that data right now to meet a number of really important outcomes, like front-loading some exams so that we can start to move students out in that period before Thanksgiving in a gradual and purposeful way, avoiding conflicts, avoiding three exams in two hours, thinking about time zone issues.
Of course, we have space limitations. I should say it's going to be inevitable for some larger classes to be spread out across multiple rooms. And so people should be prepared for that. But we're going to try to, of course, minimize that as much as possible.
In terms of online testing, I know there are a lot of questions about that. And, as usual, I would recommend that people go to the CTI website for various tips. There are proctoring services available through a vendor called Examity, with whom we have a contract, if people are interested in that. I've also heard some faculty are going to use Zoom to proctor exams. Depending on the size of the class, you can use breakout rooms and pop into the different breakout rooms to answer questions and check in on students.
But proctoring may not be what the faculty want to do. There are a lot of other things that can be done with online exams. And, like I said, the tips are on the CTI website. But begin by clearly articulating your academic integrity expectations, what students can and cannot do.
Use the Canvas Quizzes tool. That can help you with the timed portion of the exam, randomizing test questions, making it so only one question shows up at a time, which makes it more difficult to snapshot and share. You can also make it so students can't backtrack. This is how exams like the GMAT are set up. And that can also be really helpful.
We would recommend, though, that you test that tool before a high-stakes exam, just to make sure students understand how to use it and how to submit their exams so they don't run into a stressful situation on the day of a larger high-stakes exam. So go to the CTI website for more specific tips on online exams.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK, thanks. Questions about study space for you, Lisa, and a couple of different kinds of questions-- this Study Space Chatter app, can you talk about whether that can be revised to give more information upfront about what kinds of spaces are available, when they're free, what sort of amenities they have? And could a feature be added that allows someone to put a day and time period in and then have a list come up of available spaces? And related, could there be more spaces made available for studying or for taking online exams?
LISA NISHII: Yeah, I'd like to just start by saying, I think all of you know there was a ton of work that we needed to do in what felt like a very short eight weeks to prepare the entire campus, build an alternate university, it felt like. And we had a lot of competing demands. And this was built in a very short period before the start of the semester to meet a pressing need for students to be able to book spaces.
We've heard a lot of positive comments from students, which I really appreciate them saying they really appreciate being able to study in their favorite spot in their favorite library and feel safe about it. With that said, I know that it can be improved. We have received ideas, and I welcome more ideas for possible enhancements.
But to be honest, we have so many competing priorities right now, including those that require CIT's attention, that we're in this tricky spot where we have to prioritize the things that are most important for safeguarding the health and safety of our community. So it's on our list. The first thing we will do is finish the user interface so that the space admins in the units can go in there and make edits to the spaces and rooms that are on there.
And also very important and ongoing right now is clearing more small private rooms for students so they can use them for interviews and for taking exams and things like that. So thanks to all the units who are helping us to try to bring all that together across such a wide campus.
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Wendy, let me just add to that that on Lisa's last point, one of the things, obviously, that we're doing now is doing the best that we can in a way in which we were really rushed to get the semester going. And I think we're doing a great job.
But it does, I think, point out the opportunity is now to think about the spring, think about how we can do an even better job in the spring, when the conditions are likely to be very, very similar. So we're likely to have entrance testing of students coming back, testing of students, surveillance testing of students, social distancing, limited gatherings, et cetera, et cetera. And hopefully, the results of what we've done so far will provide faculty and staff more confidence to be able to mount an even more successful spring semester.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK. Thanks, Mike. There's a question here, and I think it's both Lisa, maybe Mike and Lorin, from Alex Susskind. There was an email warning yesterday from Daily Check that went out about students missing tests and the need to make sure they don't miss tests. Can one of you address that?
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Do you want to take it, Lorin?
LORIN WARNICK: Yeah, I can comment on that. So, as you know, participating in the surveillance program was part of the compact that the students signed. So it is an expectation that as the whole testing program was developed, there were some conditions that needed to be met before that requirement could be enforced more strictly. So we needed to make sure that the software system was working, that we knew who was here and who should be tested, that we had testing capacity, all those things.
So the team is moving to next week to turn on that function, where it'll be a feedback loop to make sure students get tested if they haven't been. And as a precursor to that, the message was put out to the students that now we're moving into this next phase, where that requirement will be enforced as we go forward.
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: I should add that we have had very good compliance from our students. So the great, great majority of students have been tested, so if that's a worry. I should also correct, I think I mistakenly said that flu vaccine earlier was required for all faculty, staff, and students. It's required for students. It's highly recommended for faculty and staff.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK. Lisa, do you want to jump in on that question, too? No.
LISA NISHII: I think he's covered it.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK. So now moving to some questions on finances for Mike. In the spring, you presented several potential financial impact models that were based on the cost of operating or not with COVID. Do you plan to present the financial outcomes now that we know, having operated this summer or going forward?
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Yeah, I'd be glad to do that. It's a little early to say for sure what's going on. We're planning in October a full review. We now know what, obviously, for FY20, how we finished. We're seeing how this semester is going so far. We're on track for our optimistic scenario, so I'm hopeful that we'll stay there.
We've had some, obviously, expenses associated with COVID and testing and all the other elements of this. But I'd be glad to report. And I plan to do that to the University Finance Committee and the Faculty Senate sometime in the fall and be glad to update as well in a town hall.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK, great. This is a related question. There seems to still be anger among some students that they're paying full tuition for "less of an education." I put that in quotes. Is there a way to justify this to them? Can we explain what the costs of the college are and how we're putting in more hours to develop a large volume of high quality online learning experiences for students and that that is what some of their tuition is supporting?
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Yeah, I mean, I think you stated it, Wendy. We are providing an outstanding semester for students under the conditions. I think Cornell, more than perhaps any of our peers, is providing that for all the students that want to experience an on-campus education, on-campus semester.
There are extraordinary expenses associated with this. There are the expenses of investing in and building a lab and testing and all the supplies associated with testing. The change in facilities, the ventilation that we've put in place. The changes in classrooms, the technology that we've put in classrooms. The equipment that Lisa has ordered to try and make the classrooms work better, all of those things. And we're providing the coursework and the credits that are necessary. So I think that's the best answer.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK, that's a good answer. And I really just read the whole text of the question there. So moving on to think about the spring, then, and to ask some questions about what conditions will be like in the spring and whether we know what the academic calendar will be. Maybe I'll start with Lisa there and ask when we expect decisions to be made on the academic calendar and when those will be updated and posted on the website.
LISA NISHII: Sure. So, as Mike said, our conversations about the spring are well underway. And we are operating right now under the assumption that the spring semester will be as we announced earlier in the summer.
As Martha announced in our initial reopening plan, that is for the semester to begin February 9, to begin in-person, and to remain hopefully in-person for the entire semester. So students will have a bit of a longer break between the fall and spring semesters. But keep in mind that we want students to plan to be able to return here earlier than February 9, to be able to quarantine and do everything that we did all over again in that arrival process.
We will be preparing a backup plan for just in case because we don't know what we don't know. But in case the events at the time, the conditions at the time, might require that we begin online and then bring students here for in-person, we don't want to be caught off guard. So we'll be preparing for that possibility, although we hope we won't have to go to that plan B.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK, thank you. And, Mike, some more updates from you on how we're thinking about planning now, what the process is for planning for the spring semester.
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Lisa and I just left, and Wendy just left, a meeting that is a weekly meeting of all the implementation team leads. So this is facilities, it's curriculum, it's testing, it's staff. Mary Opperman's on the committee in health and safety. So all of those, we're continuing to work.
And what we hope to do is provide, as Lisa said, a schedule as soon as possible about when students can expect, for example, to be registering and when we will have a course list and all of those things. And that we're hoping now to do in a much more timely way, to give people more time.
But all of that is being worked on as we speak through the work of a number of teams. And, as I said before, really with a mind to try and-- lessons learned. What have we gotten out of this fall semester, and how do we make it better?
And I think some of that is feedback from our students like JT, to try and say, OK, what's working, what's not working, and how do we make it work better?
WENDY WOLFORD: JT, can I hand it over to you to ask you your thoughts, not just about the spring semester, but also that really critical period from Thanksgiving to the start of classes again? Any thoughts you have of what you're hearing from students yourself about that interim period, mental health, as you brought up in the beginning, and how students are planning to spend that time? And how to address those concerns, and then your thoughts for the spring?
JT BAKER: Absolutely. I think that this was a great implementation by the university to have that bigger gap. Just from a mental health standpoint, just imagine, we're spending 24 hours a day in our apartment on Zoom classes all day. Now, imagine if that was in the hardship of winter. That would be a very, very depressing sight.
So I'm glad that we're able to go home, spend time with families. And I think from a mental health standpoint, from a refresh standpoint, that's going to give students a lot of energy and a lot of ability to re-engage.
I think students are looking for ways. They're eager to learn. That makes Cornell students the brilliant students we are. They're eager to learn. So during those time periods, they're often looking for opportunities, externships, internships. And I know-- so me being in the Hotel School, Hotel School faculty and professors are amazing at being proactive and helping students find opportunities and connecting them.
But I also think that if there's a way faculty can be intentional with ensuring that, no matter what their discipline of study is, students have opportunities to engage over this period, over this long winter break going into the spring, and have ways to learn. Maybe more courses, extra material, jobs, I think that's one of the key things.
And as far as how we're looking at the spring, I think students are very, very excited for this spring. Of course, we would like some of the social distancing and other protocols to be eased by that time. But we know that's based on the current climate of our environment from a safety and health standpoint.
But I think that the biggest thing for the spring is just really allowing us to come back on campus, make sure everything goes smooth this fall, and getting more back in-person. I think that's the biggest feedback that I've received for the spring semester is let's try to get a few more in-person classes.
Now, we know that it won't be perfect, and it won't be 100% most likely. But I just think that students are doing the best they can to abide by the protocol. And we would love to see that progress.
WENDY WOLFORD: JT, I think you just spoke for all of us there. We'd all like to see more in-person everything in the spring. Thank you. I'm going to turn to Lisa now with a couple of questions from the Q&A. Based on what you were just talking about, Lisa, can you clarify when you said the spring semester will be in-person with hybrid mode also. Is that the case, or are we just waiting to see what will happen?
LISA NISHII: Yeah, so great question-- we anticipate that there will still be students who are participating in classes from overseas or elsewhere in the US and can only participate in classes remotely. And so getting rid of that option is, I don't think it's an option. So, yes, I think planning for hybrid is the way to go.
I know that it has been challenging for faculty in the classroom to manage both online students and students in the classroom. We're working to collect more information about faculty experiences, help share faculty experiences and strategies for dealing with that, also looking into technology and all the other things that can impact that. We are also talking about whether there are little tweaks that we can do to simplify some of those issues for faculty.
So overall, I would say, yes, hybrid. But there may be some refinements along the edges. We're talking about that right now and getting as much input as we can.
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Can I add to that, Lisa, is that I know some faculty have talked about this idea of splitting, where one faculty member does just in-person and another faculty member does just online, so that we have the best. Are you hearing more of that conversation? Obviously, it won't work for everybody.
LISA NISHII: Yeah, I mean, we already did that this semester. We said that if you have an online version, then the in-person doesn't have to also have an online component. And so, absolutely, if it's possible at the department level to do that, it's a great option, I think. And so we'd like to encourage departments, programs, colleges to strategize about ways to deliver the curriculum, absolutely.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK, I almost hate to ask you this question because I know the answer, and it's not good. Lisa, will there be a spring break?
LISA NISHII: Oh. Well, because of the risks associated with travel-- this is the main thing. We know how important it is to have a break for student wellness. But the travel introduces too many risks. And so consistent with the fall semester, the plan for the spring semester is that there will not be a spring break. We will go all the way through. But we'll try to sprinkle in some days for it that we might think of as self-care days, where people do get to pause and take a deep breath. So it's an unfortunate reality of where we are right now.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK, thanks. A question for Lorin, I think, and maybe Mike could weigh in. From Eva Tardos, a recent email told us that faculty need to teach in masks and not in face shields. Can you comment if there is a safe enough distance in a large classroom where a shield would be OK? You're not--
LORIN WARNICK: Do you want me to comment, Mike?
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Yeah, I think our best information now, public health information now, is that the safest way to interact with others in this way is to wear a mask. It is the best way to contain the aerosolization of virus. And while I certainly recognize the point of your question, and at some distance there has to be sufficient safety, but we just don't have enough information about that. And the best public health recommendations are to wear a mask and prevent virus aerosolization, as I say.
LISA NISHII: I can also add, in conversations that I've had with Tompkins County Health Department in relation to cases that have come up, that when we've talked about this issue, what we heard was that if the faculty member were wearing a shield instead of a mask, that students in the first and possibly second row might be considered close contacts.
And the reason it's so hard to give a clear answer is that this really does depend on so many factors. The rooms are set up very differently. So where the faculty member is relative to students, both in distance and the angles and all of that, is quite different, and the kind of interaction. And so we couldn't get a precise distance to be able to share. But the overall guidance, as Mike said, masks are superior.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK, thanks. Lorin, you're not getting out of it. So I have two questions for you. One is the followup on missing tests, please, if you can address that. And the second one is, can you talk about USDA staff working in Cornell buildings? Are they required to participate in the COVID-19 testing?
LORIN WARNICK: Yeah, thanks. So there were a lot of questions initially about what do you do if tests are missed and that kind of thing. And I did want to let people know that, for students, there's already an option in the Daily Check to put in a time frame where they would be unavailable for testing for some reason. And that's also under development for employees. So watch for that as a future option within the Daily Check. So that's upcoming.
My understanding is that people who are working on campus, whether they're directly Cornell employees or not-- but, say, they're USDA employees, vendors that are here on a daily basis, and so on-- have been added into the surveillance program. And so they should be under the same criteria for surveillance as Cornell employees working on campus. And if there's a specific question about that where some group was overlooked or weren't enrolled or something like that, we'd be happy to call up and make sure they get added to the program.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK, thanks. Mike, you answered this question already in the Q&A. But I wondered if you wanted to elaborate at all. The testing has been so successful, Lorin's lab and the work of a lot of people on campus. There is a question here about assisting the Ithaca City School District or other local universities, TC3, et cetera, helping to monitor their population or helping with testing. Can you address what we're able to do and what the conversation is around that?
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Yeah, we've had a number of conversations. I've spoken to the Ithaca City School District's school board, as has Joel Malina. I've spoken with the superintendent and others. We're trying to work out ways in which we can help. Obviously, our number one priority is to keep Cornell safe, working effectively. It's the best thing we can do for our community and our students.
But we do have some testing capacity. And many of you know that Ithaca City School District is the only school district that is not open right now in our surrounding region. And they're planning on opening in early October.
But there's been a number of legitimate concerns, I think, by faculty and staff in the district that the proximity to Cornell and the uncertainty about Cornell has raised some anxiety about the ability to open safely. And so we think it's the responsible thing to do to try and address that to the extent that we can.
And we're now talking with a committed group of faculty. Many are, interestingly, the same group of faculty that we've relied on to do our modeling, to do our PCR analysis, et cetera, are now helping in talking with the Ithaca City School District and scaling what we can do.
It's a complicated arrangement because it means involving Cayuga Health System, our partner hospital, which is partnering with the lab, getting that information into their database, which is how all this student testing and faculty and staff testing is working. And then getting those reports to Tompkins County Health Department, of course. But we think all that is doable. We're working on it. And please stay tuned for some announcements about how we might be able to help.
WENDY WOLFORD: Thanks, Mike, that's great. I am going to let JT take us out here. Any final comments, final closing remarks, JT?
JT BAKER: Absolutely. One, I just want to say thank you to everyone on this call. Thank you to all of the educators, faculty, professors, staff, and administrators. Cornell, and I say this over and over again, has changed my life as a young man and as a student. And I know it does that for every young person who steps on this campus.
And the work that you all are doing, you know, very, very important. And I know sometimes you all don't get thanked enough. So on behalf of all the young people on the campus, thank you for what you do. Thank you for coming to work and essentially risking your lives. I know professors who have in-person classes are dealing with a lot of different things, but you're still here educating students. And it means a lot.
And then the last thing I just want to say is we're all one big family. We're a community. We're all in this together, students, staff, faculty, administrators. And we need to just keep that at the forefront of our mind and try to do the little things like being caring, being kind, especially with everything that's going on in the world today.
We're under a lot of pressure. But I just think if we stay together, we keep pushing forward, we'll come out of this a lot better than we were going in. So thank you all for being here. Thank you every day for what you do for the university.
WENDY WOLFORD: Thanks, JT.
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Thank you, JT. That's all.
WENDY WOLFORD: I'll just say, we got a lot of great questions. So we will copy these, and we'll try to respond to people as we can. Thanks, everyone.
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Wendy Wolford, Vice Provost for International Affairs, moderated a town hall Sept. 24 to answer questions about teaching and learning experiences, testing for COVID-19, and other concerns related to the fall semester. Panelists: Mike Kotlikoff, Provost; J. T. Baker ’21, Student-elected Trustee; Lisa Nishii, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education; and Lorin Warnick, Austin O. Hooey Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine.