MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Let me start by, first of all, thanking everybody that's joining us for this town hall. I think this is the fourth town hall. One of the things that we heard early on was that people really wanted to hear from leadership about how we were thinking about the challenges that we're facing both to reopen the university for research, which we've started to do in a gradual way, and also about the question of the fall, the fundamental question of the fall, which is one of the issues that we'll be dealing with today.
So my name is Mike Kotlikoff. I'm the provost. I want to welcome the panelists here today will be questioned by Avery August, vice provost for academic affairs. The panelists will be Lisa Nishii, vice provost for undergraduate education, Gary Koretzky, vice provost for academic engagement, and Peter Frazier, professor in the Department of Operations Research. And Peter's been really fundamental to helping us think about predicting what we're facing as we think about the questions and options for the fall.
So with that, I turn it over to Avery to start questions.
AVERY AUGUST: So welcome, everyone. Again, thank you for joining us on this webinar. My name is Avery August, and I will be leading the questions. I also wanted to echo my thanks to all of the members of the committee and all those who've helped develop this plan. It's very, very comprehensive and well thought through. Clearly, there are questions that our community has on the plan, and I think these town halls are really important for us to be able to address that.
I'll start out with the first question to the provost, Mike. Wanted to really put this up front, to ask you, the faculty feel some pressure to teach online, in some cases, due to health concerns or colleagues. In other cases, there is some pressure to teach in person because of the promise that the university makes to try to provide as much as possible residential experience for the students. So the question really, is the decision being proposed driven by financial considerations as much as a risk assessment?
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Yeah, a great question. I think I said at the first town hall, in the first presentation to the faculty at the Senate, as well, that what I thought we should be doing is making decisions based on the best science that we have available. And I've tried to incorporate individuals who are the most knowledgeable in our incredibly talented community to try and address the issues and decisions that we're faced with. There are no perfect solutions. We know that we're in the presence of this pandemic, and that we don't operate in a zero-risk environment currently. And what we're trying to do, really, is assess in the best way that we can what are the risks of different options.
I have laid out the financial consequences of being residential, being online, or some sort of hybrid process. But fundamentally, we wanted to make the decision and we asked the committee to advise us on the options that would preserve public health in our community, and how we could deploy science to do that in the most effective way.
So this past week, this week, we got the reports of the committees, the two committees, one that Gary led around how we could test and use our capabilities, both locally with Cayuga Medical and our diagnostic laboratory here at Cornell, to try and surveil our population and see if we could create a safe environment, and then the other subcommittee, chaired by Lisa Nishii, which really looked at how we could modify student behavior, teaching processes, dorms, et cetera, to also create a safe environment.
And it was the summary of those recommendations that came out in the report. And I must say that I did not anticipate the conclusion or the analysis. And I think many of our colleagues in other institutions have not really considered carefully the implications of a college community where you are online, but a significant proportion of your students return because they live off-campus, they have leases, or they just want to return.
And we had to look at that very carefully. And it was the balance between those situations that I think you see reflected in the report that forms the basis of the recommendations of the committees. So really, fundamentally, Avery, we were looking at this in terms of the public health risks associated with having an online semester, understanding-- we got data on our students, we asked students whether they would come back, what the risk would be associated with that situation versus what the risk would be if we put in place the most effective surveillance process that we could. And the outcomes are what you see in the report.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you, Mike. So the next question is--
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: I'm sorry, I did not answer the fundamental question about faculty feeling pressure to teach or not. So I do want to make sure that faculty understand that we will provide the option for them to not be in the-- we polled the faculty, as well. I'll get these numbers a little bit wrong, but roughly a third of faculty were interested in teaching face-to-face, about a third of the faculty was not at all interested in teaching face-to-face and concerned about it. About a third of the faculty was open to the possibility if we could create a safe situation. And so we are not going to require faculty to be in a position where they feel at risk. And so that will be a choice of the faculty.
AVERY AUGUST: Thanks. And actually, that leads to my next question, which is to Lisa. In this process of the in-person teaching versus hybrid or versus online teaching exclusively, what is the process for who will be asked to teach in-person versus online?
LISA NISHII: Thank you for the question. The idea, as Mike just said, is that faculty are in the best position to decide the most appropriate or best modality for their course, based on personal needs and also for pedagogical reasons. And so faculty will be asked once again-- I know that a lot of you have already provided an initial indication of your intentions-- in the next two weeks or so-- well, maybe a few weeks, I'll say-- we have an enormous amount of information to collect in order to create a revised roster. And the inputs that we'll need, we'll be working through department chairs to, once again, ask faculty for how they would like to teach their course.
So I anticipate three types of answers. One is definitely online, one is definitely in person, and another might be flexible and can adapt to departmental needs. So department chairs will collect this data from faculty, and simultaneously, we'll be asking for the names of TAs or graduate students who are scheduled to TA, and then student disability services will reach out to TAs to make sure that they are able to register if they have health-related concerns about teaching in person or require any other accommodations. So that's another piece of input. And of course, classroom space is another one.
And so what will happen is, to every extent possible, we would like faculty choice to drive the modality of the course. We also recognize that there are some departments in which courses can only be taught in person. So I anticipate that it's possible that, in some departments, some adjustments may need to be made in order to deliver the courses that need to be delivered. So for those of you who are beginning your terms as department chairs July 1st, I am sorry, but there will be a lot of work coming up. And I just wanted to say that we will need to get data pretty rapidly and in compressed time frames as we go forward in order to develop the roster.
AVERY AUGUST: Great. Thank you, Lisa. So maybe moving on to the questions also around teaching to Gary, one of the concerns was the mandate to wear face coverings. And so one of the questions expressed a concern about whether that will impede the ability to actually teach. And so the question is, can we teach in face shields instead of masks? Is there concern about muffling in wearing a face mask versus a face shield?
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah, so thanks, Avery. Really an important question. I'll just take a step back and say that the virus is a real thing, and transmission of the virus is something that we're concerned about, and it's something that we're trying to put into place procedures that will mitigate that as much as possible. I think when you look at the data, that masks actually matter. And so we wanted to make as a very, very high priority encouraging people to wear masks, especially inside, especially in rooms that might be where people would be sitting for a while.
So we feel that face coverings of some sort for the faculty and students in class are really critical for public health. But of course, we recognize exactly the question that was asked. And so to that end, we're trying to come up with the best solutions. One solution is to provide microphones that actually can be fit into masks. Another solution is face shields, as opposed to masks. So this is all going to be a balancing act. And I think, as Mike actually said, every single step and every single part of our reports were designed to try to weigh risks and benefits and practicality.
So we feel-- and of course, this will be evolving-- that there can be technological solutions that will make it possible for people to teach using a mask or some other sort of face covering, and also afford protection for them, but also protection for their students. And we think developing a culture where masks are the norm and outliers are people that are not wearing masks will go a long way to protecting our community.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you, Gary. And for those of you in the audience, there's a Q&A feature of Zoom that you can post questions. We'll try to get to them. We're using the questions that were gathered earlier this week to try to provide questions for the panel. So I want to move now to the model. A lot has been written about the model in the report. The report is based on significant modeling, as Mike said.
And so the first question for Peter Frazier, who led the modeling, is around the assumptions of the model that support a totally online semester posing a greater public health risk to Cornell and the Ithaca community as compared to a carefully executed resident, in-person fall '20. And so the question is really, what are the assumptions in the model that support this idea, paradoxical, as Mike says, that not having an in-person residential fall actually poses a greater risk to Cornell and the community?
PETER FRAZIER: Thanks, Avery. I think it's important to both talk through the assumptions that support the conclusion, and then also to talk through what assumptions would need to be made in order for the opposite to be true. And as with any model, especially an epidemiological model, where you get exponential growth with some assumptions and then you don't get exponential growth with slightly perturbed assumptions, you really have a lot of uncertainty.
So I want to emphasize that you should take the model not as an absolute prediction for what is going to happen. Instead, you should take it as a way to think through what you need to believe in terms of kind of a description of reality, what you need to believe about a description of reality in order for you to believe that a particular set of outcomes are going to occur.
So the question of whether virtual instruction poses more risks than residential instruction, the main sort of assumptions that are important for driving that conclusion are, let's see, difficulty or inability to test students in a virtual instruction scenario. So a number of people have asked me why we can't test students in a virtual instruction scenario. So in a residential instruction scenario, the ability to mandate testing comes, first and foremost, from the fact that students would be using our physical property, so academic buildings and dorms. And so if they miss tests, you could restrict access, for example, to their dorm. And so that would ensure high compliance.
In a virtual instruction scenario, where students aren't using our physical property, we would lose access to that. We could restrict access to email, but we would only want to do that for students that are living in Ithaca, and we don't have a good way of mandating that students tell us truthfully where they are, especially if you're in a virtual instruction environment and students are not tied to a particular classroom schedule. They could be wherever they want at any particular time of day.
So if we ask students to simply report their current location just out of a sense of social responsibility, we worry that, once they learn that reporting a location in Ithaca means that you need to go get tested once every five days, once every week, that students will then-- some students may then say that they aren't actually in Ithaca when they are. So that's one really important assumption, is either a complete inability to test in a virtual instruction environment or low compliance with testing.
Another assumption is that the R0-- R0 is a useful epidemiological number, which means the number of secondary infections that each primary infection creates-- so another assumption is that the R0 among students who would be living in Ithaca in a virtual instruction scenario would be large enough above one to cause an uncontrolled epidemic in the absence of the interventions that we would have in place in the residential semester. That may not be true. If that's not true, then we're in a great world, where the world is safer than we're assuming it to be. So I hope that that assumption, in particular, is not true.
We're also assuming that we have robust ability to test on campus in a residential semester. So that relies both on our operational ability to execute testing really frequently for a very large number of people, and also relies on compliance. We talked about compliance just briefly a moment ago. And then it also assumes that the R0 for students living on campus is small enough that testing that we could reasonably execute would be able to control that growth.
In the report, we use as a baseline number a number from the CDC of 2.5, which corresponds to a normal population, not students, without interventions. And so the assumption there is that the student population, with the kind of interventions that we'll put in place, will have a rate of growth of the epidemic that are comparable to non-students without these kinds of interventions.
So when you put all those key assumptions together, then what ends up happening in the model is that you get a large number of people that are infected in the virtual instruction students who are living in Ithaca-- so let's say maybe 60%, 70%, 80%-- whereas in the on-campus population, you see more than an order of magnitude smaller number of people infected. You know, 1%, something like that. And what that means is that, even if only a few thousand students come back to Ithaca or are already here in Ithaca in order to engage in virtual instruction, the total number of infections is larger among that population.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you, Peter. I think that sort of taking us through the assumptions behind the model is important for understanding the predictions. So I want to return a question to Mike, and trying to address another sort of major question that's being posed, is it sounds like things have already been decided. Is that the case?
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: No, not entirely. I think this report is, frankly, very influential, but a number of things have to happen. First of all, we are not masters of our own fate here. The state of New York has to agree and permit us to open, if we were to choose to open. The board of trustees will have a board meeting tomorrow, where we'll discuss many of these similar issues and the board will weigh in. But I anticipate a decision as soon as next week around which way we'll go.
I do want to say one thing to add on to Peter's comment, because I've read a number of the questions that came up after the faculty Senate meeting yesterday, and then some on the chat here were submitted around this question of the modeling set up a false comparison, basically-- a comparison between a world in which we surveilled and tested students if they're residential and one in which we didn't test them at all if they're not residential. And the feeling was, you know, you've just set this up. Why wouldn't you test them if they're not residential?
Well, there's a number of problems there. First of all, if students are all online, they can live anywhere. We don't, frankly, know exactly where they are. We really have no way of enforcing individuals or identifying individuals that are not compliant. You know, are you not compliant because you're living in Akron or are you not compliant because you're in college town and you're deciding you don't want to get tested?
We can't penalize, if you will, or have any teeth behind any enforcement, whereas if we're all residential, we can enforce issues like saying, if you miss your test over a period of time, there will be significant consequences, leading up, could be, to removal from your courses. We have the ability to control access to things like the library, et cetera.
So there are a lot of tools that we have if we have a formal residential program and we have a process-- you know, this is not the only safeguard. The other safeguards, as Gary mentioned, are in terms of mask wearing, behavior, the way we distribute our classrooms, the way we control our classrooms, our travel policy. All of these are barriers that we plan to put in place that help to protect the community. We have far less control of that if we have 5,000, 9,000, 15,000 students here in our community that are not formally here as residential students.
And some of this is legal. Some of this is our legal flexibility. And I just wanted to say, this is not something that was skewed, in that way. It's our best estimate of our ability to surveil in those two conditions.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you, Mike. So you did address one question that came up, which is this issue of how does the university enforce new guidance and expectations. So I don't know if you could sort of repeat some of what you said maybe in a more direct way, in terms of enforcement.
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Well, so we have not fully decided all the levels of enforcement that we're going to impose on students who-- and we're certainly-- one of the things that we're working on in the testing, for example, is a very easy test that's not a nasopharyngeal test. And other testing companies, other universities are working on this, as well, whether it's anterior nares, so a swab of the front part of the nose, or a saliva test or buccal test, where you use a swab basically to get saliva and cells from below your tongue.
We're trying to make this as positive as possible. And there's a whole discussion of a communication campaign around how we talk to our community and our students about what we're trying to do from a public health standpoint, and how we safeguard everyone's health. Now, on the enforcement side, to be practical, there will be things that we . Impose and whether that's removing your internet access, which we have explored, your ability to access buildings, all the way up to removal from enrollment. All of those are things that we can pursue for students that are residential and are not obeying the residential rules.
AVERY AUGUST: Great. Thank you. So I'll move now to a question to Lisa. And this question addresses issues of support from the institution for faculty who are teaching either hybrid or completely virtual. Question is around how will virtual exams be managed, will there be guidance and assistance provided to faculty. And then I'll repeat the second part is this concept of semifinals, noting the proposed calendar. If you can maybe talk a bit more about that.
LISA NISHII: OK, sure. I'll actually start with the second one about semifinals. The reason why we have days embedded in the academic calendar before Thanksgiving break-- we're calling them semifinals instead of finals because they occur a little bit before the very end of the term-- the reason why they're there is because of the feedback that we have received from faculty about this spring semester, where online assessments were difficult, and there were problems with academic integrity in some classes, as well. And so we heard quite clearly that, for a lot of courses, having online assessments is really important. And so that's why we embedded them there.
And the way to think about them is just like you would a regular final exam period that we have after the last day of instruction. That is, there are no classes during those days. Instead, there are exams scheduled for those days. As with final exam period in any other semester, it's also the case that, in courses, you could have other kinds of assignments due during that period.
I know that not all courses require this assessment, in-person assessment period, and it might not be optimal for all courses to have that period right in that part of the semester. But we just received so much feedback from faculty who said that it really is essential in some courses. So in the next few weeks, as I said earlier, we'll be collecting a lot of information from department chairs and from faculty.
And one of the questions that we'll ask is whether or not you would like to offer an in-person exam. And this question will be asked of all instructors, not just those teaching in-person courses. That is, even in online courses, we'd like to be able to provide that option. So faculty will be asked, do you want to give an in-person exam during that period, or instead, an exam at the end of the semester, which would be online. Based on the input that we get, we can adapt. If it turns out we don't need eight full days, we can replace some of those days with instructional days instead, so we get more days of in-person instruction in before Thanksgiving. And then we'll adjust the online portion after Thanksgiving.
So in terms of other kinds of support for assessment, we know that this is a big issue, and absolutely. CTI is offering an assessment workshop called Assessing Learning Online, which they'll run over the summer. It's recorded also, and is available for you to view through their website. They also provide a number of great tips on how to use Canvas quizzes, which is one of the functionalities within Canvas, to do things like randomize questions, create test banks, how you can use limited window answer windows, and also to make it difficult for students to go back to earlier parts of the exam.
And then there are also other tips, like asking more complex questions, open-ended questions, or perhaps supplementing written exams with an oral question that is timed that students need to answer, where it's much more difficult for there to be academic integrity issues. So all of these tips also are available on the CTI website.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you, Lisa. That was very helpful. I want to move, just to sort of spread out the questions, to a question to Gary Koretzky. One of the concerns that have been raised is the proportionate, or disproportionate, effect of COVID-19 on Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities. Was inequity considered in the discussions on the models for reopening the campus for the fall?
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah, so Avery, a really, really important question. You know, this, of course, is a local issue for us, but it's a national issue, and what you say is very, very true. And that is the proportion of individuals who fare badly with COVID-19 that are coming from the groups that you mentioned is higher than one would expect based on their representation in the population.
We are aware of that, of course. We, like everybody, I think is trying to understand that, that there are questions about comorbidities, but there are also questions about access to health care. There are many, many issues that could cause this. So what are we thinking about locally, because that's your question.
So number one, everybody is going to be offered what we think is the best we can possibly offer in terms of protection. As was described in the report, there's going to be a very robust testing program. The testing program will be available to anybody who has symptoms. We'll ask them to be very self-aware of symptoms, and we will test them early. And we think that identifying disease early on will be helpful for everybody. The testing will be at no cost to the students or the faculty.
The second issue is that we're going to do surveillance testing, and we're going to be looking at our population. Again, the idea is to find disease early and be able to bring it under control, rather than have there be an epidemic. And again, this is open to our entire population, and that there won't be any disparities at all in terms of how we hope to manage the infections on campus.
Now, of course, there are individuals who might be more vulnerable to the disease because of comorbidities or for other aspects of their own lives. You know, as Mike and Lisa talked about, faculty that are uncomfortable teaching in person are not going to be asked to teach in person. And this won't be after asking lots of questions about health, you know, personal issues.
This will be something that faculty will be able to choose. So we feel very, very strongly that we want to put control in the hands of members of our community, but also to provide protection for everybody in the community. The larger question about why these disparities exist, well, that's a national issue that I think we all feel strongly just absolutely needs to be addressed.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you, Gary. So this next question, I want to turn to Peter. And perhaps, at the end, Mike can jump in, as well. So there are questions on the chat, but also online before, around the assumptions, but now extending out to both Ithaca as a community and Ithaca College. So were the larger non- Cornell community considered? And then I want to follow up that with a question to Mike about interactions with the community and the town on the decisions. Peter?
PETER FRAZIER: Sorry, can you clarify? So the question is about Ithaca College? Can you just clarify a little more?
AVERY AUGUST: Right. In terms of behavioral assumptions both of Cornell students, but also of Ithaca College students, Ithaca city residents and town residents, and how that fits into the model.
PETER FRAZIER: Thank you. Yeah. So I think there are-- let me break that into four pieces. Behaviors that affect transmission and contacts and behaviors that affect testing broken out by Cornell students, staff, and faculty, and then other people. So as it relates to behaviors that affect transmission-- so those would be behaviors like wearing masks, not having social gatherings larger than 10 people-- these kinds of behaviors, so the assumption that we're making in the model is that the number of secondary infections that result from each primary infection, on average, across the whole campus population, is 2 and 1/2, which is a number that is comparable to what we see in the larger population. So the assumption there is that our students, when behavioral interventions are in place, are comparable in terms of the number of others that they infect, the number of other people that they infect when they are infected.
The second assumption is an assumption about compliance with testing. The baseline numbers that are in the-- oh, and I should say, that assumption about the number of secondary infections stays-- the conclusions stay robust if that number increases, but does not double. So if that number doubles and we don't respond with an increased test frequency, we don't respond by addressing what's causing a large number of contacts, then what we would see in the residential fall semester is that an outbreak would grow out of control.
And we expect to be able to detect that through results from testing, where we would see, for example, that we're seeing lots of infections in lecture halls. So then we might respond by asking some fraction of students who are currently attending lecture hall to do so remotely on some days per week, or we might put up partitions in classrooms in order to address transmission between people that are far away from each other.
So that's a set of assumptions about behaviors that affect transmission for our students. In terms of assumptions about compliance with testing, the nominal numbers assume a 100% compliance with testing, which is optimistic. We see robustness to those assumptions when compliance drops to about-- so we see robustness of the conclusion that virtual instruction is less safe than residential when you drop compliance to 75%, and you see that that compliance is clustered in a small number of non-compliant people.
Then in terms of the outside community, so we model the outside community as being a source of infection that is essentially coming in and bombarding the Cornell campus. An important assumption to call out that people have asked me about is whether we modeled the impact that our students have on the outside world. We actually do not model that.
With a robust testing program, where we're able to reduce R0 below one, and where most of the interactions between the outside community and Cornell are not through-- many of those interactions are through faculty and staff, the assumption that the model is making is that the effect of the outside community on our infections are much larger than the effect of Cornell on the outside community, because we're doing a good job, under these assumptions, of controlling infection spread.
With specific regard to Ithaca College, we are not modeling the interaction between our students and the Ithaca College students. And so if there were no additional measures put in place at Ithaca College, that would be an additional risk. Maybe we can pass off to Mike.
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Yeah. I think the question to me really is around the interactions that we've had with the community while we've been having these discussions. And I think that's a very fair question. What we're undertaking has potential risks for our community. We're going to bring back a number of students to our community. And as I say, and we all know, a number of those students are coming back anyway.
We've had almost daily, certainly weekly, meetings with our colleagues at Cayuga Medical. Many of us on this panel were on a call yesterday with New York State Health individuals from Cayuga Medical, as well, talking about the surveillance testing program. We've had very frequent conversations with Tompkins County, the Tompkins County Health Department. Gary met with the mayor this week, with a number of other local community individuals.
I think it's fair to say that the spirit of everyone that we've talked to is let's sort of pull our sleeves up and see how we can make this work. Of course, Cornell has an enormous impact on the economy of the region. That shouldn't drive us to make decisions that are unsafe, but it does, I think, motivate individuals to see how we can address a potential risk, and if we can convince ourselves that we can do that effectively. And so from the mayor's office in Ithaca to county health, I've also had conversations, and Martha's had conversations, with Ithaca College. Lots of communications there on our scheduling, on our move-in process, on our testing strategies. So this really is a process that's involved the entire community.
AVERY AUGUST: Thanks. Thanks, Mike. And I think that was explained in the report, as well. So moving now to a question to Lisa. And there were a few questions that I want to group together. And these are really specific courses, and what are the recommendations to manage them. The first is community engaged courses that that may require some interaction with the community. The second is the policy on canceling courses that fall below a minimum registration or enrollment. And the third is certain lab courses. So maybe if you could give us your thoughts on those topics.
LISA NISHII: Sure. So the first one was about community-engaged courses. So the same public health principles will apply to community-engaged courses. That is that we need to be able to maintain six-foot distancing, which becomes tricky when you think about transportation and using a van to take students someplace. So that needs to be taken into account. Students and instructors will need to wear masks, and we need to protect individuals who may be in elevated risk categories.
And so that will likely mean not-- or suspending activities that involve, for example, nursing homes and other members of our community who may be in the vulnerable health category. Also important to keep in mind is the fact that travel restrictions are in place. And so community-engaged courses that involve travel outside of our Ithaca area will likely also need to be restricted. I think that it may be that what we will need to do is develop a simple approval process for in-person engaged activity. Otherwise, to the extent possible, we'd really like to encourage that the engagement happen virtually.
The second question was about minimum enrollment. And I think this is the kind of decision that's best made at the college or department level, not at the center, based on the balance of instructional demands and resources. And the third question was about labs. And this is a really tricky one. You know, I think a lot of people have been thinking about this. And probably the best thinking happens at the local level, at the department level, based on the specific type of lab. That includes the setup of the rooms themselves, but also the work that students do, the need for teamwork in labs and things like that.
So I do think that there will be some labs where it's very difficult to create a meaningful learning experience and achieve learning outcomes by participating remotely, so we should have in place, again, a process for closely examining which of lab courses perhaps might not have a remote component to it, except when students are in quarantine and need to be able to keep up with the work. And that, again, I think would be at a dean level decision within the colleges.
In terms of specific guidance, one question that I've gotten repeatedly is how do we manage labs where we can't maintain six-foot distancing. And that's a really difficult question. If you look at the New York State guidelines that came out recently in higher education, if you are going to come within six feet of somebody, you have to have a face covering on. So of course, our students are going to be wearing masks. So we have that covered.
The issue is that if they come within six feet and are within six feet of each other for more than 10 minutes, they would be identified as close contacts if somebody were to test positive, which means lab partners would need to go into quarantine. And that's something we'd really like to minimize, to the extent possible. We do recognize that, in some labs, it may be absolutely essential for students to work in pairs or very small groups.
And if that's the case, then I think we'll need to proceed that way. But really try to maintain six-foot distancing between those lab groups. I think, as we go forward, we should probably get a group together to really brainstorm specific lab situations, and develop guidelines and share ideas across departments so that we can figure this out.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you. So I want to move to Gary for a question about travel between Ithaca and outside of Ithaca. What's the policy for individuals who perhaps commute to New York City or live a significant distance from the university? Will there be a policy, or will that be left to individuals?
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah, Avery, this is, again, a really hard one. And it's one that we've thought a lot about, and we're still thinking about it. So there are a few, I think, things that we know for sure, and then there are others that we're working on. So let me just frame it, because I think it is really important to think about why we're having all of this conversation about travel. I mean, is travel truly a risk in the era of a pandemic of an infectious disease? And unfortunately, it is, and in particular with this disease. And what makes this disease so vexing is that you can become infected with this virus, you can be asymptomatic or presymptomatic for a period of time, and still transmit the virus.
So what does that have to do with travel? Well, Ithaca has actually been quite fortunate. The prevalence is quite low in our region. But that's not true everywhere. And so of course, when you travel somewhere, you are sampling the viral environment or the microbial environment of wherever you are. So there is a risk, of course, whenever you travel.
Another risk about travel is how you get there. If you're on an airplane with 180 other people and they're all sitting close together, and people are coughing and circulating the air, that's a risk. And then also, what happens when you travel? You often go to restaurants. You're in closed spaces with other people. You use public restrooms. So there are clear risks for travel. So that's a given.
So what do we propose to do about that, and how are we thinking about that? Well, first and foremost, members of the Cornell community live in New York. They live in Ithaca. And we need to abide by governmental regulations. And as I think most people know, they changed at midnight last night, so that if you travel to New York from nine different states, then you need to quarantine for 14 days. And Cornell, of course, will require that Cornell employees, staff, students all abide by those regulations.
But the other thing that is really important is education. So we want to make sure that our community understands the risks of travel so they can make informed choices. There's actually a very good website from the CDC. We want to make that very, very visible. And there are some things that we can do and we feel that we should do. And that is that, if you're traveling on Cornell business, that that travel should be restricted to essential travel. And the reason why is that it is risky, no matter where you go and how you go. It should be not frivolous travel for Cornell business. It should be essential travel.
But then there are the questions that are more complex. There's personal travel. And we live in a society where people are free and feel comfortable traveling with nobody looking over their shoulder. And we don't feel that it's Cornell's position to interfere with that. So people will be able to travel personally. We do feel, however, that we've got to be mindful about what comes back with you when you travel. Are you bringing back the virus?
So for that reason, we want to make a few things clear. And that is that, if you've traveled and you have any concern whatsoever, we're going to make testing very, very accessible. If you were someplace, and you thought it would be fine, but you ended up in a restaurant with lots of people, nobody wearing masks, in a place that you discover was a place with a high prevalence, that will be enough so that, when you come back, we'll be eager to help you think about it and be tested, work remotely, if you can, for a period of time, until you know that you've not become infected.
With people that are commuting back and forth every day from places in New York State outside of the region, well, that's a different story. That's their regular commute. We can't really interfere with that. We want to, again, make people very aware of the potential risks, and we ask them to be very careful. But then there are other circumstances, right? Going to New York City frequently. There are people in Ithaca that do go to New York City frequently, and these are the ones that we're working on. We want to really make sure that it's transparent, that it's thoughtful, and that it's practical, but it also affords the safety. And I wish I could tell you that we're all done with thinking about it and we've got defined recommendations. We do, like I said, for some things, but others I hope will be ready in the next few weeks.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you, Gary. And we have about five more minutes of this conversation, so I want to try to get as many questions in as possible from the chat, as well as previously online. This is a question for Mike. And I'll try to combine two questions, one online and one before. If in-person instruction is implemented, are off-campus students allowed to go to in-person classes, or can they only do online courses? And then related to that is, why not give students the choice to either do completely online or in residence?
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Yeah, we are essentially giving them that choice. So the plan is that we will have instruction that's in person, we will have courses that are online, and we will have the in-person courses available by remote access. So any student-- we're not going to force students-- we couldn't force students to come to Ithaca if they don't want to. And we do expect a number of students will not come to Ithaca, and will take the online option. Maybe they're individuals in higher risk categories, maybe they're just concerned and don't want to risk it.
So essentially, students will have the option. We're not forcing them. If they come to Ithaca and-- I just got this question, I've been answering as many questions as either I knew the answer to or I could get to, but if they choose-- one question was, well, what if students choose to be online, and then come to Ithaca anyway and are in college town anyway? How can we control them? And the answer is we do, again, have some levers here. Unless they're residential students, they won't have access to our buildings. They probably won't have internet access. And so we have some tools to be able to bring them in to our surveilled population.
But to the primary question, Gary, our aim here is to give everyone as much choice as we possibly can-- students, faculty, TAs, as well-- and try and create out of this the best kind of fall semester learning environment that's possible.
AVERY AUGUST: Thanks, Mike. And just to clarify, when you say residential students, you mean students who are in Ithaca who have opted to be on campus, but live either in Cornell housing or in college town, for example.
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Correct. Correct. So I'm calling the residential student someone who has opted for some in-person instruction. There will be students who say, I don't want in-person instruction, I'm just going to sign up for online courses, or I'm going to monitor some courses remotely and I'm going to stay at home, or possibly come to college town. But there, they will not have access to campus.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you. And maybe we can squeeze in one last question to Lisa. So these are concerns about the mental health consequences of social isolation. Given what we've experienced this last spring, the stresses placed on faculty and staff, are there plans to provide designated or trained staff or students to help to manage the potential mental health consequences of the semester?
LISA NISHII: Yes, absolutely. I believe this question-- I saw the way that the question was worded when it came in-- may be related to a statement that was made in the report about supporting students who are in quarantine or isolation, during which time they would necessarily be alone. Cornell Health has a process in place for informing faculty and staff on a need-to-know basis about students who need accommodations, without disclosing the reason why. And faculty would need to know so that they can provide support to students to make sure that they are able to keep up with the course content.
We know that students, they've repeatedly told us that it really matters to them, they appreciate it when faculty show that they care simply by checking in with them. So that's really more the level of expectation there for faculty. The expectation is not that faculty provide mental health support. That's not the role of faculty. The Skorton Center for Health Initiatives will be taking the lead in developing various approaches for supporting students through the unique COVID-related stressors that they may experience in the upcoming academic year.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you. And we have maybe two minutes, Mike, for a quick question with regards to visitors to the campus, sales individuals, equipment, repairs, et cetera. What is the policy on allowing individuals like that to be on the campus?
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: Yeah, we are hopeful, in the next week to 10 days, we will have the final travel policy put forward. This is a very complicated policy [INAUDIBLE] travel out and travel in, or access in. There will be a policy for vendors and others to come in under safe conditions, deliver things, be greeted in a safe way. We have some of those in place already, as part of our research restart.
I will say that the travel issue is one that is very complicated. It's just there's so many individual components of this. If I travel, you know, 51 miles rather than 50 miles, or if I travel 100 miles and go camping in an isolated region where I don't meet anybody. We're going to provide general travel guidelines-- and Gary may want to say something about this-- and then try and ask local colleges, the local department or local college deans to really adjudicate these special instances where there are so many variables that we couldn't try and capture them all in a single policy. Gary?
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah, yeah, so Mike, that's exactly right. It is so complicated, and every case is an individual case. We're actually piloting this right now at the College of Veterinary Medicine. So those of you on the faculty and staff at the CVM are well aware that we're trying different ways to make sure that we give the best advice to people before they travel so that they can make wise travel plans, and also that they've thought about what the repercussions might be on their return. So part of our process and part of the reason why we're not quite done yet is that we thought that it made sense to pilot a good idea and see how that works.
And for the questions that are related to visitors, well, they're intertwined, of course, with travel, because a visitor is, of course, somebody who traveled to the region. And so we're trying to do this holistically, put these together to give, as Mike said, guideposts. You know, but we're not going to be able to answer every individual question because there are so many different nuances, and every circumstance is truly individual. So we want to give enough guidance so that people feel comfortable that they'll make important decisions, and have a place to go, to turn for both education, for advice as this goes forward.
MIKE KOTLIKOFF: OK. So I see we're at time, Avery. If I could just end by thanking the panelists, thanking everyone. There are a lot of questions here still coming in. We'll try and answer those questions. And I would like to, again, just reiterate that what we're trying to do is do something that universities haven't done before. I speak to my Ivy plus colleagues every week. We're all struggling with the specific conditions.
We're not in the middle of New York City or in Philadelphia or in Boston. We're in a place with very local prevalence. We're going to bring students back, who are almost certainly going to-- our students are going to come back, they're almost certainly going to add to the viral load in the community. And we're trying to make informed decisions about those. I look forward to other suggestions as we go forward. There'll be a lot to try and figure out, whatever path we choose.
And I thank you for your patience in advance. And so far, this has just been a tremendous response by the Cornell community. And I so much thank all of the committee members, the faculty, staff, and students that were involved in these committee reports for their efforts. So thank you very much.
AVERY AUGUST: Thank you all. Thank you for your questions.
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Avery August, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, moderates a June 25 town hall meeting on teaching reactivation options, with panelists Mike Kotlikoff, Provost; Lisa Nishii, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education; Gary Koretzky, Vice Provost for Academic Integration; and Peter Frazier, Associate Professor, School of Operations Research and Information Engineering.