WENDY WOLFORD: Thank you very much for joining us for this town hall on fall semester introduction 2021. We'll start off with a message from Mike.
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Thanks, Wendy. Thanks, everyone, for attending and for everything you're doing. I just want to start with an overview of the situation now, and then I'd like to say a few words, particularly to those of our colleagues were most concerned about the situation at present.
As we've described, we're experiencing a higher the number of cases among our undergraduate students, with by far the greatest positivity amongst the most social slice of our student population. Our contact tracing and positivity by student group shows that those cases are predominantly the result of off-campus social interactions without masks, both at gatherings and when living with positive individuals. Importantly, we don't have any evidence of spread through the class-- through classroom interactions, and we're looking very carefully for any evidence of that.
As you know, we have a very highly vaccinated population on campus, and that fact, along with our indoor masking policy and our rigorous surveillance testing program, combined to provide an imperfect but very powerful barrier against the spread of the virus. All of that being said, one major advantage that we have is seeing our own results in real time quickly and being able to respond to the data. What I want to say is that we will continue to do that, continue to watch the data and respond to conditions, just as we did successfully all of last year.
So a word to those faculty who are most anxious about the current situation. As you know, last summer, when we faced the rising COVID pandemic and the challenge of bringing our students back to a campus that had been closed down, we made the decision to allow faculty the option of teaching online or holding in-person classes. We also allowed students the option of attending classes online.
The consequences of those decisions, of course, were that we had limited in-person classes for our students, and we were able to de-densify our classes, and the faculty who taught in person were required to do so in a hybrid fashion. We did all of that because we were still learning about the virus and our ability to understand its control and it's spread, and because our community was not vaccinated. I fully believe and I think virtually everybody on this town hall will agree that it was the right thing to do.
But over the course of the past year, we've learned a lot more about the virus, the way it's transmitted, and our ability to mitigate its spread. We've succeeded in vaccinating the overwhelming proportion of our community, and we've also heard from many, many faculty who were extremely excited about getting back to teaching in person.
Most importantly, we're cognizant of the enormous value of in-person education on our students learning, their social development, and mental health. This summer, having learned so much from the year of living with COVID, we, like all of our peers, made the decision to begin with in-person instruction for all of our students. We see the impact of that decision all around us every day. The hunger of our students for contact with faculty and peers, the desperate desire to participate in activities and clubs, and the enthusiasm of many, many faculty who were delighted to be back in the classroom, or the office, or the lab.
That is why we have made this decision and worked with deans and faculty over the past months to prioritize an in-person semester. We'll talk today about the specifics of this plan and how it's going. Many people are working constantly to refine and improve our operations, and we can improve many of those operations. And your feedback is very, very helpful in allowing us to do that.
Just two more things. First, I want to urge you not to hesitate to get a supplemental test if you are at all concerned about your own exposure. That supplemental test is available at any time you're concerned. Please schedule a test. Go right in for a test.
Second and most important, my main message is really to thank you-- to thank you for undertaking this effort. It's so important for our students. They value it so highly. This communal effort between faculty, staff, and students and the cooperation of our community has characterized Cornell's COVID response throughout the pandemic. Now, I'm enormously proud of all of our efforts and all of our success to date. So thank you again.
And with that, I will just introduce our panelists and turn it back to Wendy. So today, to answer questions, me, of course-- Mike Kotlikoff, provost. Avery August. Gary Koretzky. Wendy Wolford. Lisa Nishii. And Peter Frazier, when he-- and Peter Frazier, who is now here. Thanks, Peter, for just in time. With that, back to Wendy for questions.
WENDY WOLFORD: Thanks, Mike. You know it's bad when he doesn't introduce our titles if this is another town hall. We're really glad to do this, to have this opportunity. We got a lot of questions in advance, over 130, so we don't have time for all of the questions. We've pulled them together, tried to pull out the ones that were asked most frequently, and we'll get to as many as we can today.
There's a Q&A button, as you know. Ask questions in the Q&A. Panelists will respond if they can. We will pull all the questions from the Q&A and, as much as possible, answer them on our COVID FAQ page. So do ask questions as you have them.
To get us started, we'll start in this current moment, which is a moment in which we are in yellow status. So the questions that I have to begin with are asking what really yellow means for all of us on campus. To start with Mike, here are a set of questions that have to do with the event guidelines during a yellow alert. Are there plans to limit events or group sizes in person, even if they're outside and potentially move them to virtual while we're in yellow? And related, are we moving ahead with homecoming and commencement?
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Yes, we've looked at all of our events. Many have been canceled. All have been considered and contact minimized. Virtually everything that has been scheduled on campus has been modified in one way or another. There has been significant reduction in attendance in a number of events. Homecoming and commencement are going forward in a modified manner. Some of those events will be online. Some have modified or limited attendance.
WENDY WOLFORD: So we are responding in every way we can to enhanced safety. And Mike, what would be the threshold of cases or the trigger for us to move online?
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: So we don't have an absolute threshold for moving online. Going online limits the risk of spread in the classroom, obviously, so we're looking very carefully for any evidence of spread in the classroom. If we do see transmission in the classroom, that would, of course, trigger us to go online.
Another factor and one we're considering carefully is the number of students in isolation and whether students can continue to make academic progress. If that begins to become an issue within courses, that would also trigger an online decision.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK. Gary, some questions to you about being yellow. The first one is whether you're now recommending that we social distance indoors, and related to that, should we be having potentially non-essential events indoors such as in-person faculty meetings?
GARY KORETZKY: Sure. Wendy, thanks for the question. And also, I'd like to thank everybody for participating in this town hall. So going to yellow, the most substantive thing about going to yellow and the most important thing that we can do is wearing masks indoors, right? That becomes critical. And that's in all public spaces indoors where masks are practical. Of course, that's not practical in the dining halls. That's not practical in the areas designated for eating. But everywhere else in the public setting, wearing masks indoors is really critical.
When it comes to social distancing, again, there's practicality. We have a large number of students taking in-person classes. As Mike described, that's really important for their education. It's really important for the environment on campus. We want to preserve that as much as possible.
We can't do that with social distancing. There just isn't the room. But we're very confident that with the vaccination levels on campus and with masks and the type of setting that you have in most classes, where there isn't a lot of jumping up and talking and hugging or whatever, that that is a safe environment. And so we're going to continue to have classes until the environment changes further if it does. And we hope it won't, but we're very confident that that can occur. So of course, that cannot occur with social distancing.
But for other events, make choices that if you're having an event, and you do it in an atrium, and people can be further apart. We're not saying you can't have those events. Wear masks. We're certainly recommending food outside. We're recommending that the events be limited in size if practical. But those should still be ongoing.
When it comes to faculty meetings, there's a lot of value in having in-person faculty meetings. I think the faculty can decide. There should be Zoom options. We want to be very respectful of people who feel that they would not want to participate in something that could be done online. And so the advice is to be mindful, to be cautious. Provide options when possible. But we're still moving ahead with our academic enterprise, which does include people getting together.
WENDY WOLFORD: So use your judgment, and that includes eating food or sipping drinks if you have to remove your mask briefly while inside.
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah. So I think that it would be great if you can just, in talking with your classes, with the students, that if they can wait until the class is over to have the drink during a break, that would be ideal. This isn't something that we're going to be able to legislate, but it's something that should be recommended, and it would be great if people can accommodate each other in that regard.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK. A pretty specific question, Gary. Now that we're at yellow, would you recommend not using face shields and instead going to masks?
GARY KORETZKY: So the recommendation has actually always been the same, and it continues, and that is it's better to wear a mask than a face shield, but sometimes, it's impossible to teach with a mask. So again, that becomes the judgment of the faculty. We want to make sure the faculty do have the autonomy to make that judgment. We do strongly, strongly urge that if you're not wearing a mask that you wear a face shield. That does affords some degree of protection. Masks are better. So if you can teach with the mask, do so. If not, a face shield is acceptable.
WENDY WOLFORD: Great, thank you. Super helpful. Back to Mike, some questions specifically now about teaching. This one was asked a number of different ways. Faculty are wondering whether we would consider starting the semester with a few weeks of remote instruction until things settle down.
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Yeah, we are considering that. What we want to understand is whether there is any spread in the classroom. What the risk is in the classroom. That's probably the most active question that we're thinking about now. That, and the issue around students in isolation and their ability to have academic progress.
Of course, this varies for different courses, and I see in the chat question about academic progress in a certain kind of language class, et cetera. So we're actively considering how we respond to that. Whether we provide flexibility, et cetera. And we'll be getting back to faculty as quickly as we can.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK. A second question related to teaching for you, Mike. It's about the ventilation units that were put in place last year to reduce risk. The question is why they were moved this year. And here's a specific variant of that, which is from Statler Hall.
The question is, "I just learned that the air handlers for my classroom in Statler Hall are down and slated for repair. The windows are screwed shut. How would you suggest I mitigate the risk of airborne transmission?"
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Yeah, I've learned far more about ventilation than I ever wanted to learn. Let me just say a couple of general things. There have been a lot of concern that somehow that we've removed ventilation systems from rooms. My understanding is that last semester, last year, we put these pop up units with these pop up classrooms that are not usually used for classrooms and are not being used now. We put extra ventilation units in them.
We've also gotten information from our facilities individuals and occupational health experts that these units are not very effective or not effective in preventing aerosol spread of the virus. So we did not put extra fans in rooms without ventilation, without active ventilation in them. I have looked at this and asked facilities to be able to provide those if faculty feel that they really want them despite the recommendations from the experts on ventilation.
My understanding is also there's-- excuse me-- a noise issue associated with this. So that has to be considered. But the one thing I can say is, if you feel like you want a fan unit in your room, please make that request through facilities in your college, and we'll get a fan unit in your room or have an analysis of that in the noise situation.
I don't know the specifics of the Statler room and the ventilation being down. I will say, all of our modeling, Peter's modeling around the risk of transmission in the classroom, considers the issues of our ventilation and our code in our classroom. So that's part of our analysis and was part of our decision.
WENDY WOLFORD: Great. And another question about teaching, this one to Gary. It's about contact tracing and how contact tracing is being done in classrooms, particularly when faculty are not necessarily assigning seats. The question is, how do you define close contacts? And one person said specifically, I teach in a studio course where everyone is in close proximity, and they would consider all of those students and themselves as close contacts. Can you define?
GARY KORETZKY: Sure. And obviously, this is a complicated question. And I will say at the outset that we-- and we in this case is Cornell Health and several individuals who are really immersed in this, and Tompkins County Health-- talk regularly. In fact, this morning Sharon McMullen, the head of Cornell Health, and I spent quite a bit of time with Frank Kruppa, the director of Tompkins County's Health Department.
And we have talked regularly about not only the conditions on campus but what our plans are, how we're going forward, and I must say that there is complete agreement that the strategy and the plan is one that is very much endorsed by the Health Department. So what is that plan?
So remember also that this year is different than last year insofar as if you are fully vaccinated and you're a contact of somebody with COVID but you're asymptomatic, you do not have to quarantine. So one of the purposes of contact tracing, of course, to identify people that need to be quarantined. We have made it really clear that if somebody is symptomatic, whether they're a contact or not, students should be contacting Cornell Health. And they're doing that.
And so we know that students, at least to a large extent now, that are feeling symptomatic are doing the right thing, and that is that they're going to Cornell Health and, if appropriate, they're being tested for COVID. We also know, however, that there is transmission. The county knows that. It's typically in households in the county. We know that. But it's, as Mike said, at gatherings that are typically non-masked. It's also in residences.
So we're concentrating very much on identifying those individuals as quickly as possible. Even if they are asymptomatic, we're testing them. So like we did last year, we're doing more than what is asked of us by the governmental authorities to make sure that we find individuals who are positive before or as early as possible so that we're able to then isolate them if necessary and try to break the chain of transmission.
So in particular for classrooms because that's where the question came up. We have talked extensively again with the county. We feel that that's a low-risk environment. And so individuals who are sitting in classrooms with masks and are vaccinated we believe, and so far, we have no evidence yet, that there's been in-class transmission of COVID. We know that that was the case last semester. We have not seen any evidence this semester, but we're very, very vigilant about looking.
So we know who is in the classes. When there's somebody that's positive, we do the back-end analysis. We make sure to identify if there are other positives that would have been in that same class. If so, if they belong to the same social organization or if they belong to the same athletic team, that might be an explanation. If they live in the same residence. If they're roommates. That will be reassuring that, at least circumstantially, it appears that there's another reason why there might be transmission. We're continuing to do that analysis.
But we also are asking the students what they do so that when students are identified as positive, if they interact with other people in the classroom closely, we will then identify those individuals as individuals that should be tested. If it's a studio class, then the likelihood of interactions will be greater, and we'll be much more aggressive then about testing those students in that studio class.
But remember, all of our students are being tested. All of our undergraduates are being tested at least weekly and sometimes twice weekly. So we feel that we've got good measures in place to quickly identify people that need to be tested. Sorry for the long answer, but it's really complicated, Wendy.
WENDY WOLFORD: No, no, no. That's helpful. I have a question now that asks about people who haven't yet tested positive but are concerned that they have symptoms that could be COVID symptoms, but, of course, they overlap between COVID and the common cold. So can you talk a little bit about what faculty should do if they are teaching in person but they wake up with a runny nose, a fever, or if they're unvaccinated child wakes up with a fever or some other symptom?
GARY KORETZKY: Sure. This is a highly nuanced question, as you can expect. And there's a spectrum. So if somebody wakes up and they discover that they have no sense of taste or smell and they've got a fever, well, don't come to work. Call your physician, and it's likely it will be recommended that you get tested for COVID.
Most people hopefully are waking up each morning feeling great, and you go to work. But then there's a huge range in between. And this is where judgment comes in as well. So if every year, at the end of August and the beginning of September, you've got seasonal allergies and you've got a little bit of stuffiness and it's no different this year than it's been for the last 15 years, I think you can use that judgment.
But again, if you've got a concern, call your provider. If you've got a concern, then we do have options. Just like if you felt sick in 2017, you made a decision about whether or not to go to work. And then if you felt like you couldn't go to work, if you couldn't go to teach, you made the appropriate accommodations. So we suggest that you continue to do that and just be a little bit more vigilant. It's really hard to say, if you sneeze twice, it's OK, but three times, it's not. I mean, this is really going to unfortunately be on a spectrum and a judgment.
Now, children, right? So you have a young child who has got a fever. Young children have fevers. But again, if you're worried about your child, if you, of course, have to stay home with your child, you need to work, as you would have in 2017, to make accommodations.
But one of the things I will say, though, is that if the faculty member's vaccinated-- and nearly everybody is-- and your child does test positive for COVID, even if you have not yet tested, you should not come to work. And the reason why is exactly what we're talking about with contact tracing. Tompkins County has found that transmission occurs largely in households. So if your child is positive for COVID, that would be a good reason not to come to work until you've talked with your provider, probably had your own COVID test, and certainly at the time to take care of your child as necessary.
WENDY WOLFORD: Great. So that was a lot of information. But within the broad parameters of we are having in-person instruction and stay home if you are positive or a member of your household, what you're saying is that there is a lot of room for judgment.
GARY KORETZKY: Exactly.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK. Now, I need to pose a lot of the same kind of questions to Lisa because they're very specific questions but now related to faculty teaching in person. So the first one, Lisa, is about informing faculty if someone in their class tests positive for COVID-19. Will they be informed, and will the rest of the class be informed as well?
LISA NISHII: Thanks, Wendy. So when a student tests positive, as you know, they're placed into mandatory isolation by the Health Department. And such students will likely notify their instructors directly, but maybe not all of them will do that. And you'll also receive a notice about the student being placed in isolation, or sometimes it may be mandatory quarantine if they're not vaccinated. And you'll receive a letter, a notification through Student Disability Services, or SDS. The law school has a slightly different process.
You should know, however, that students can decline to have a temporary accommodation and for that letter to be sent to their instructors. I think it's probably less likely that students will decline that this year than was the case last year. We did see students decline that, primarily, I think, because the Zoom link was often available to them anyway. And so they didn't need kind of special help from the faculty member to remain engaged in the course.
But what I heard in the listening session yesterday is that there is this delay between being told by a student directly that they're positive and hearing from an official source-- that is, through this temporary accommodation letter issued by SDS. And so please know that Cornell Health and SDS, as you can imagine, they're totally down. They're processing a lot of cases. And so there is a delay right now.
And so but we've heard you. And so we're talking about whether there might be some way for us to provide you maybe with a pre-notice prior to the SDS letter that might feel more official and that can accompany a direct notification from the student. But there are a lot of challenges associated with that we really need to try to think through.
So if you imagine, for example, in 50 cases a day, and students are in 4 to 6 classes each, that's potentially over 200 faculty that would need to be notified by somebody who has the clearance to be looking at HIPAA-protected data. And those same individuals also have a lot of other clinical demands on their time right now.
So we have to figure that out. It would feel like a full-time job at this moment. And also, it wouldn't be perfect because a faculty member could get a notification, a pre-notification, but not an SDS letter if the student chooses to decline, or maybe they decide to drop the class, and that could be confusing and maybe create anxiety.
So with every one of these things, there's-- so we're just trying to work through to see what makes sense. In the meantime, I think what's probably most logical is to encourage your students to let you know when they are confirmed positive so that you can support them directly and be in touch about how they'll be able to keep up with their coursework but while they can't attend in person.
I want to reiterate. I said this in a letter that I sent yesterday to all instructors teaching an in-person class on the Ithaca campus that we are looking carefully at class-level data. So when there are multiple positives in a class, I know that this can feel alarming to instructors teaching that class.
First thing we do is look to see whether we can explain those positives based on factors outside of the classroom. And as has already been said, there are a lot of out of the classroom factors that are driving the numbers right now. And often, we can explain the positives that we're seeing.
Our focus, then, is on the ones that we might not be able to explain. So easily based on social connections. And if the numbers of those cases is higher than would be expected, then our plan is to reach out to the primary instructor and to partner with them, I think, for three important reasons. The first-- instructors are a really good source of information about students. You know a lot about your students.
This was the case last year when talking to faculty about their classes. I learned a lot about social networks that might not be visible to us on paper or how students move around in the major or subgroups within the major. All of this is really useful information for us. So it's really important for us to partner in that way.
The second would be to talk about pedagogical adaptations that might make sense in a scenario where there are multiple people in the classroom in isolation. And then the third is to discuss whether a communication plan would be appropriate for notifying the larger class. But again, remember what Gary said earlier in that students in the class are undergoing regular testing.
And so we have to balance sending everyone for extra testing when we can't process everybody in every class where there's a positive. We don't have the capacity for that. So we have to be very smart about where we see a need to do that. And when we do, we will be partnering with faculty. Sorry, that was a long answer.
WENDY WOLFORD: But it's good because there's a lot that goes into making that calculation. So a related question-- what should instructors be doing for those students who either have to isolate because they're positive or are staying home because they don't feel well?
LISA NISHII: You know, I'm afraid that there might be some misperception about this. I have heard some people say that their understanding was that they're not allowed to provide Zoom access to students who are in isolation, and that's not the case. What we had said in a communication where I think this may have-- the game of telephone may have happened is, we asked faculty not to make one-off decisions about semester-long remote access to classes because that is actually quite complicated and involves financial aid, and-- there are a lot of things that go into that.
But when we're talking about temporary access to a class for someone who can't attend in person because they're in isolation, the faculty members should decide what makes the most sense for the class. And in some cases, it might be Zoom. But in other cases, you might actually not be as good an option as you think because perhaps maybe it's a discussion-heavy course. And the classroom doesn't have voice lift technology, which means that the student who cannot be remotely can't hear what's going on. And so that might not be an ideal solution.
We have a number of recommended ways of doing this for you to consider and leave it up to the faculty member to decide what's best. There are other things that you can do, like you can use your laptop to connect to Zoom if you do think that's the right thing for the student. You can use a USB speakerphone to try to capture more of the audio.
If you use Zoom, you don't have to provide live, synchronous access. You can record it and then share that with the students who are in isolation. You can just create an audio recording. And we have USB cameras. Visual capture is really important. You can use recordings from last year if you have them and they're relevant for the class that you're teaching now.
And maybe one of the recommendations I really like is to think about whether or not you can use collaborative tools to crowdsource notes from the students in the class to share with students who are in isolation, whether it's using Google Docs, or OneNote, or Hypothesis. There are a bunch of tools out there. And the reason I like it is, one, I think where it makes sense, it can lessen the burden for faculty. And the other is that it can serve I think as an antidote to this competitive culture that we've heard so much about, in particular in the recent mental health review report.
Can I say one last thing? So last year, we had classroom technology assistance. These were students who were helping faculty manage this technology. Given the higher than expected numbers that we're seeing, we're trying to rehire students who have this experience from last semester to see if they can come and be deployed in whatever ways make most sense at that time to support faculty. So stay tuned for that.
And you may also notice in some classrooms that additional technology is being set up to create what we refer to as Zoom rooms with an extra monitor so you can see people on Zoom. But there's no obligation for you to use that additional technology if you see it popping up in your classrooms. But we recognize some faculty may want it, so we're putting that back in. We had to take it down because some pieces of equipment were kind of walking away.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK, I think this next question is yes, no. These same things that you have said about using judgment and potentially doing components online for students who are offline or in quarantine-- do all of those things hold for instructors who test positive?
LISA NISHII: I think that Gary really answered that, right? If you test positive, stay home. Use your judgment. Collaborate with your instructional team if teaching online is not a great option for student learning. And be in touch with your chair. But obviously, stay home.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK.
LISA NISHII: Are all these tools available? I'll put the link in the-- I know we're short on time. I'll put the link in the chat.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK. Let me ask a quick question about masking to Gary and then to Mike. The first one to Gary is, do we have an outdoor mask mandate? Do people have to be massed outdoors, and why?
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah. So before that, Wendy, I saw in the chat something that I think was confusing to some people, and I probably misspoke. So really important to clarify this. Anybody who is positive for COVID isolates. The people that are not required to isolate are vaccinated individuals who are asymptomatic and contacts.
If they test positive for COVID, they isolate. So I just want to make that really clear. Once somebody is identified as being positive for COVID, we have some-- staff, the HR does it. Students, Cornell Health does it. We ask them to isolate.
Got it? Masks. So yes. So we are now requiring masks inside and also outside when you can't distance. There's a rationale for that. The rationale is that masks really work. I know that there have been questions about whether there's really evidence for that.
I think what we could do is that we could just make sure that the data behind that, the papers that describe that are more widely distributed. We'll make sure that that gets onto the website so people can look at it. But if you can't distance, if you're in a crowd of people outside in this environment right now, we're asking you to wear a mask. If you're by yourself on Beebe Lake, you don't have to.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK. Thanks, Gary. And a question for Mike about compliance. If faculty are seeing students not comply with the masking mandate or with other required behavior or expected behavior on and off campus, can you talk about how we're messaging to students and what people can do if they see that noncompliance?
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Yeah, there has been a lot of messaging to students related to this spike in cases. All campus-sponsored parties, all official parties have been canceled. Vise President Lombardi. Ryan has had multiple conversations with students, with student organizations, and aspects of the student community.
We've also imposed mask guidelines on University activities, all University activities outside of direct athletic competitions. And we've increased testing in those groups in which we've seen increased positivity. So all of that as a response to this.
I would say when faculty see individuals that are not masked-- first of all, if they're in your classroom, they need to be in masks. I would urge you to say, I'm not teaching unless you put your mask on. I haven't heard of any of that. And I think overall, students have complied substantially with our guidelines.
If, in those rare circumstances where students are belligerent, refusing to comply, I would suggest and Bryan Lombardi would suggest that these get reported to the Incident Office of Student Contact. We can put this in chat, but it's basically sel.cornell.edu/studentconduct. And individuals can be reported, and that conduct will be investigated and adjudicated.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK, thanks. Jumping now to questions about the model or modeling and risk of transmission for Peter Frazier. The first one is whether or not your modeling takes into account the reduced effectiveness of vaccines over time.
PETER FRAZIER: Thanks, Wendy. Yes, absolutely. We have been spending a huge amount of time looking at the literature which has been coming out with a paper every day over the past few days. And our understanding of the situation has been changing rapidly.
So we have two different kinds of models that we've been using for supporting decisions over the-- supporting decisions in the summer for the fall semester. One of them focuses on classroom transmission. If you have a positive student in the class, what happens to the other people in the class, both the students and the instructor? The second model looks at transmission within a broader population. So looking at students, looking at employees, and then looking at the community.
The effect of varying estimates of vaccine effectiveness in these two different models are pretty different. In the classroom situation, fortunately, that's one where, when the vaccine effectiveness reduces, it does make the protection lower. But if you cut the vaccine effectiveness in half, then what you're doing is you're doubling the classroom risk. And so if the classroom risk was already very low, then it's still a small number, even though it's twice as large.
That's not necessarily true for transmission within a population of people. There's a very kind of non-linear response where, if vaccine effectiveness drops too much, then you start to see spread in the population. And so one of the things that we've been looking at is understanding the current surge and trying to get a very detailed understanding of vaccine effectiveness and a number of other factors as we put interventions in place in order to respond.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK. Peter, you talked about the transmission in classrooms being very low. Many people in the questions pointed out that there are very different classrooms, some that are big with lots of students and some that are small with lots of close contact and discussion. Does your model take into account all of those different styles?
PETER FRAZIER: Absolutely. Absolutely. We have-- so over the month of June and July and August have been working on models that look at classroom density, the effect of masking, the effect of vaccines both on protection against being infected and also against transmission, and then also looking at ventilation. And all of these things play a role.
What we find in the theoretical modeling that we do based on data collected from elsewhere and from the literature is that the effect of bringing people together, of having closer density-- of having higher density than we had last year, it does increase risk because people are more exposed to the larger respiratory droplets that fall as you move further away from somebody. And then people are more protected because they're vaccinated.
And then those two effects push against each other, and using the new vaccine effectiveness numbers, there is a slight-- there is an increase in risk of transmission between this year and last year. But it's a small enough increase in transmission that when you take a really small risk and you increase it multiplicatively, it doesn't rise. It doesn't rise too much.
I should also say that the respiratory activity of the people in the class does matter, and there are some situations where having dense-- having people sit right next to each other, even when masked, is not safe. An example of that is when people sing. When you sing, there's a lot of-- there's a much larger number of respiratory droplets that come out of a person. And so in situations like those, we've put in place special measures in order to protect those students and to protect the instructors that are in those classes.
WENDY WOLFORD: Thanks, Peter. This gets at maybe the question from a different direction. Our population is fully vaccinated, writes one faculty member, and the vaccine protects essentially 100% against significant illness. So the question is, why are case numbers still driving policy? Please explain the science.
PETER FRAZIER: Let me just articulate that vaccines protect very-- a great deal against significant illness. But it's not 100%. And there is a-- it's very, very, very small, but there is a possibility that if you get sick, if you become infected and you're vaccinated, that you will have a significant illness.
There are also people in our population who are immunocompromised. Are not able to be vaccinated. There are people in our community who are too young to be eligible for vaccination. There are people in our community who choose not to be vaccinated. And I wish that they would get vaccinated, but it's our responsibility to protect them.
So for those reasons, even though the vast majority of student cases that we have the students are asymptomatic or they have very mild-- they have a runny nose or a mild cough. And that makes me-- I'm really grateful for that that when a student gets sick now, it's much less serious than in the past. But at the same time, this small number of vulnerable individuals in our population and also the small chance that a person who is vaccinated and infected will become seriously ill, those are important reasons that we need to intervene.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK. Peter, one last question. All of this information on the modeling is fantastic. Will you be updating the website to provide some of that?
PETER FRAZIER: Yes, absolutely. We were planning, the students on the modeling team and I, to release all of our analysis both as classroom analysis and then also the modeling of subpopulations. And then with rapidly changing numbers with vaccine effectiveness and then also the surge that we've been seeing most recently, we needed to prioritize modifying those models and analyzing that data in order to support operational decisions so that the best decisions could be made. And as a consequence of that, we had to push back being able to post our analysis on the web. So we will do that. We are planning on doing that. And we'll be doing that as soon as we can while also making sure that we're doing our very best in order to support operational decision making.
WENDY WOLFORD: Great. Fantastic. Thanks. A couple of questions on faculty accommodations for Avery. The first question is that the university has given deans and unit leaders the authority to consider accommodations at their discretion. So the question is, what procedures has the university implemented to ensure that these leaders understand the appropriate standards for accommodation and implement the policy in a consistent fashion? And is there a means of appeal?
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you for the question, Wendy, and I just want to add my thanks to all of you who are really trying to make our semester a success for our students and, frankly, do share many of the concerns that have been expressed. And I think we're really trying to ensure that we are able to make sure to ensure that everyone is safe.
With regards to that question, we have a process that's in place for those faculty and instructors who are [INAUDIBLE] immunocompromised or have a medical reason for requesting a change in the delivery of the course. That goes through the medical leave accommodations process. They're the experts. They decide whether there is a-- whether the individual has a medical reason for requesting.
They then provide that designation, whether they have verified that or not, to the chairs and deans of the colleges. The chairs and deans of the colleges then work with the faculty member and the class to determine the best course of action, whether it's going transiently virtual or whether it's providing additional PPE or other means of protecting the faculty member, and I would say it also includes whether the faculty member has in their household someone who is also immunocompromised. That process also goes through medical leave accommodations.
That process is then-- there's a consultation process with the chairs and the deans on that to identify the best response. And then we within the provost's office will work with the deans to determine whether that would be an appropriate way to do this. So it's a fully consultative process. It starts with the determination by the medical professionals as to whether there is a medical reason. This is not a determination made by the chairs and deans. Once the MLA has determined that, then the chairs and deans are able to work with the faculty member to determine the best course of action.
WENDY WOLFORD: Related to that, Avery, you mentioned immunocompromised conditions. The question is, there are other conditions that the CDC suggests perhaps would be relevant for accommodation. This is just a general guideline from the CDC, not for university in particular or for people in this position. But there is a list of other conditions such as past or present cancer diagnoses, et cetera. And so would faculty with these conditions also go to the MLA?
AVERY AUGUST: That's correct, Wendy. Faculty with any of these conditions would go to the MLA, and they would be able to have that conversation with the folks in MLA who, again, are trained to be able to determine that. And the MLA would then provide a determination to the chairs and deans who would then, again, go through the process to try to find an appropriate response.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK. Thanks, Avery. A couple of questions about testing for Gary. There are questions about whether or not we have capacity for supplemental testing for all of our faculty and also about testing times at the off-campus location. There's some concern that it has been hard to find times. Will there be additional slots available?
GARY KORETZKY: Sure. So supplementary testing is available for everybody in the community that asks for it. The way you do that is through the daily test check. There is a Schedule My Supplementary Test Now. And every testing site is available for supplementary testing. It's not required to do that at the off-campus site.
There is capacity. There's capacity through the day. It's easier to get an appointment at 8 o'clock in the morning. For some reason, there aren't a lot of undergraduates testing at 8 o'clock in the morning. They seem to prefer the afternoon times. So please, make sure that you go to the daily check if you seek a test.
We have added-- we were testing more than we anticipated. We added another collection site on west campus. We've added more collection stations, both at Willard Strait and also in Bartles and in RPCC. So right now, we are meeting all of the needs, and it's the intent to continue to meet all the needs. So we need to know if you're trying to make an appointment and you can't. Right now, that should not be the case, and it should not be the case in the future.
WENDY WOLFORD: Thank you. Can you explain who is being tested on arrival and who is being enrolled in surveillance testing? An additional question as to whether or not international travelers, students or faculty who arrive on campus, whether they are being moved into mandatory testing.
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah, so the mandatory testing is for the following individuals. Everybody on campus. Students, faculty, staff that's not vaccinated-- everybody is getting tested twice a week. Students-- undergraduates, professional students, have all-- and so all of the students who are not vaccinated, when they arrive, they have had to test immediately upon arrival.
Now, have arrived, and they're now in surveillance. For those who were vaccinated, as soon as they told us they were in Ithaca, they were enrolled in weekly surveillance. And again, those are all undergraduates and professional students who are vaccinated are tested once a week. And there is the opportunity, like I said, for everybody to be tested through supplementary testing.
We've made a few adjustments. There are certain subgroups that are now being tested twice a week. We did that last year in a reaction to seeing where cases were clustering. We're doing that this year where we're seeing cases are clustering.
And the other thing is that we're using very aggressive adaptive testing. So again, if there's a residence hall where it looks like there are a number of cases, we're asking other residents of the residence hall, even if their surveillance test isn't for another three or four days, we're asking them to be tested now. So the strategy is to have robust testing, both directed, but also through our regular surveillance.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK, thank you. Mike, a question on testing for you. Given Cornell's testing capacities-- and I understand that we are close to our limit, potentially-- the question is whether or not Cornell can help increased testing for ICSD-- the local community.
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Yeah, we did this, many people know, last year. We had good interactions, not just with ICSD but with other local school districts. We will do that again. We're working very closely with Cayuga Health Systems, our partner. They're also involved very closely with doing the testing for the community. So we're working in concert with them. It really relates to their desires to utilize our services and our testing. But we're very willing to help and try and make the situation in the schools as safe as possible, obviously.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK, great question that has come in through the Q&A and that I want to pose to Lisa is how faculty can access PPE that they would use in their class, and are we making that available to them directly?
LISA NISHII: So masks and other PPE as needed-- it's all available through e-shop. And it has been my understanding that departments are not being charged for this PPE. But some of the questions we got may make me wonder whether that's, in fact, the case. So I'm going to I'm going to look into that so that we can rectify that if that's, in fact, the case that departments are being charged.
WENDY WOLFORD: Great, thanks. And then a question to Gary that has come in over the Q&A about microscopes. And so this is also similar to a question that we asked to Peter about classes specifically that orient around microscopes that are shared by students, TAs, and their instructors. The question is, how hazardous for COVID transmission will this be? Are there alternative practices that you would recommend?
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah, certainly. So we know that there's less transmission on surfaces than was originally thought at the very beginning of the pandemic. I think if individuals are sharing microscopes, they should certainly have wipes and they should clean them off. I don't think that that poses an undue risk as long as people are careful and people are paying attention to that so that they essentially disinfect with wipes the microscope in between usage of different individuals. By different individuals.
WENDY WOLFORD: OK, thank you. We are out of time. We had a lot of questions. We covered a lot today. So this recording, of course, will be available on the web, and we will pull the questions again from the Q&A and organize those and answer them also on the FAQ page. Mike, over to you for one last comment.
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Yeah, thanks, everybody. Thanks for participating. Thanks for everything you're doing. Thanks for listening. And thanks for being patient as we are responding to this situation. Thanks for understanding if we're a little slow with results or responding to requests.
Everybody is working really, really hard to try and make this semester as successful as possible for everyone. Successful for our students. Supporting their academic progress. But also, safe for everyone. And we're looking very carefully at the results. We're watching this. We will continue to make decisions based on the best available evidence and in the best interests of our community. So let's just continue to work together for the good of our community and our students. And thank you.
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Cornell Leadership offers guidance and answer questions relating to the Fall 2021 semester.
Speakers: Wendy Wolford, Vice Provost for International Affairs, Michael Kotlikoff, Provost, Gary Koretzky, Vice Provost for Academic Integration, Lisa Nishii, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Peter Frazier, Eleanor and Howard Morgan Professor of Engineering, Avery August, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Presidential Advisor for Diversity and Equity, Chair.