MARTHA POLLACK: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us for this town hall. I want to welcome all of our students, staff, and faculty, as well as today's panelists, our Provost, Mike Kotlikoff, Gary Koretski, the vice provost for academic integration, Lisa Nishii, vice provost for undergraduate education, Mary Opperman, vice president and chief human resources officer, Madeline Wessell, vice president in general counsel, and Wendy Wolford, vice provost for International Affairs, as well as our moderator, Charles Van Loan, dean of the faculty.
I'm so glad to have all of you with us and to be at the point where we are right now, where we can begin to talk about a life on the Cornell campus that's moving quickly towards a post-pandemic normal. There's a lot of good news out there, and we have many reasons to be optimistic. First of all, here on campus, the alarming surge in cases that led us to move to the yellow status is abating. So far in April, we've had only a handful of cases each day, with an average of less than three new cases a day for the past week. And so yesterday we were able to go back to status green.
Also, the vaccine rollout is moving ahead nationally, and we now have not only three stunningly-effective vaccines, but also rapidly-expanding access to them. All New Yorkers over the age of 16 are now eligible to be vaccinated and we're seeing significant progress in terms of supply and distribution of the vaccine.
Throughout the pandemic, we at Cornell have been very fortunate to have a great partnership with Tompkins County Health and Cayuga Medicine. This began with collaboration around testing and contact tracing and care for those who became infected. And as the vaccine has become available, the collaboration continues. We have worked together to make sure that Cornelians who've become eligible for vaccination are aware, and we communicate ways to make appointments and receive vaccines. We are committed to continuing this collaboration as more and more New Yorkers, and now, in particular, our students, become eligible. Cornell is working with the state to acquire additional vaccine for our community, and we are committed to work together with Tompkins County Health and the Cayuga Medical Center to ensure efficient and equitable distribution.
Like I hope many of you, I'm personally feeling more optimistic that I've been in, well, more than a year really. Outside the sun is shining and it feels like spring has truly arrived in Ithaca. And speaking metaphorically, we can see the sun shining or the light shining very brightly at the end of this very long tunnel.
But with all that good news-- and I can't say this strongly enough-- we're not there yet. We're not at the end yet. And it's absolutely essential that we not let our guard down too easily or too early. Most members of our community are still not vaccinated. And the arrival of these more infectious new variants put everyone who isn't vaccinated at greater risk.
We're seeing close to 8,000 new cases a day every day in New York state. So please, for a while longer, we need everyone to keep doing everything we've been doing all year. Wear your mask. Keep your distance. Get tested. Do your daily check.
And as we're seeing the weather begin to get warmer, as we're seeing beautiful days like this one, socialize outside. And of course, get vaccinated just as soon as you can. If we can hang in there just a little longer, if we can keep our numbers low just a little longer, then fingers crossed we do expect to be able to have in-person commencement ceremonies next month pending finalization of guidance from New York state. It's going to be different from our normal pre-pandemic commencements, but it will still be a wonderful way to celebrate the academic achievements of our graduating students.
OK. We received a tremendous number of questions for today's town hall via Qualtrics, and we want to have as much time as possible to answer them. So I'm going to stop here, and turn things over to our moderator, Dean Van Loan. Charlie?
CHARLES VAN LOAN: Thanks Martha. And thank you again everybody who submitted the questions which are driving the whole session. So I'd like to start off with Mike for some elaboration on the April 2nd memo where you identified three sort of scenarios.
One would be herd immunity, in which case the fall would look like Fall '19, with maybe minimal constraints. Then a middle category, high immunity, where we might have say fully occupied classrooms, but other steps like mandatory masking. And then a low immunity possibility, in which case it looks like this semester. I wonder if you can connect these different scenarios with vaccination levels, and explain what has to be done to reach herd immunity, and what happens if we don't.
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Thanks, Charlie. And thanks everybody. So all along we've followed the science, and we're following the science here. We want to plan for a normal semester. Everything, in terms of rate of vaccinations, rate of immunization, looks to us like we will achieve herd immunity by the fall. But I'll go into a little bit what that means, and then what happens if we don't.
So the best way for us to have a normal fall, of course, is to get the herd immunity, which is variably estimated at something between 75% to 85% of our population being immune. But it's also complicated because it would not be good, for example, to have one segment of our community immune, but a significant pocket that is not immune and interacting. And so that's a reason really for us to understand the vaccination status of our entire community, and the reason that we've mandated and facilitated uploading vaccination status on the daily check.
And we will follow these data, look at them very carefully as we approach the fall, and make a decision based on science as to whether we have the ability really to virtually completely relax our safety measures and have in-person teaching, normal residential housing, normal activities between our students, et cetera. So we think that number is someplace between 75% and 85%. But again, a little bit complicated.
So if we're less than that, Peter Frazier's modeling has indicated that above 50% immunity of our community, with very low prevalence, that those conditions would allow us, with safety precautions, such as high-quality masking, special seating-- so separating nonvaccinated individuals-- and surveillance testing to really have very safe, densified classrooms. But that would be an intermediate situation.
It might be that we need to start the fall that way. Although, again, we think most likely we'll have achieved herd immunity. But if so we will put these precautions in place. We will have that teaching instruction that's largely densified in person with these additional precautions that we'll put in place and inform the community of well in advance of the semester.
Then there's finally the condition in which we don't, but we think it's very unlikely. But if we are not at 50% or above 50% of our community vaccinated, then we will likely be in a situation very similar to what we're in now. We'll look at that situation very carefully, but it's very likely that we'll have the densified teaching, some sort of hybrid conditions, and significant surveillance testing.
CHARLES VAN LOAN: Thanks, Mike. Let's turn now to questions that have to do with making the vaccination required. This raises all kinds of issues. Lots of questions on that. Let me start with Gary. If you could sort of outline what the vaccination scene might be on campus now, through the summer, into the fall, what that's like.
And there were some technical questions. For example, a sample one would be, well, I took the first test but had a pretty bad reaction. And I don't want to take the second test, or I can't. What if you just go half the route? Does that count? And how are you going to keep track of vaccinations? Mike mentioned they'll be part of the daily chat. Maybe some comments on the reliability of that and how that's going to feed into the modeling.
GARY: Great. Yeah, so thanks, Charlie. Really, really important. And obviously, as Mike said, it's absolutely essential that we understand vaccination on campus so that we can make informed decisions. So to facilitate that, we established something, actually at the end of March-- I think it was in the third week of March-- where we made it possible for everybody who is part of the daily check, everybody who's part of the Cornell community-- at the bottom of the daily check there's a button, and it says, Upload My Vaccination Status.
And that's for people who are fully vaccinated, meaning that they have received either the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, one dose, or the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, two doses. Or if they've been vaccinated elsewhere-- and we might be talking a little bit about those who have been vaccinated out of the country-- there's an opportunity to upload that information.
And we ask people to put in the information. It's actually quite simple. You can do it on your phone or on your computer. Ask you to take a picture of the documentation. That's typically a vaccine card. It goes into a system, and then there's somebody that verifies it. And it is really encouraging, I must say. More than 5,000 people on campus have uploaded that they're completely vaccinated.
Now, complete vaccination, just from the CDC terms, requires two weeks after that ultimate dose, so that after your second Moderna shot, you're not, by definition, completely vaccinated for two weeks. But this tool that we've got, the verification tool, can count 14 days so that we will know when somebody has been fully vaccinated. And like I said, already there are more than 5,000 individuals. So that's really encouraging.
And there are hundreds each day that upload this. So one real important message to everybody that's listening, when you're fully vaccinated, when you've had your second dose, or Johnson & Johnson at your first dose-- you have to sit there for 15 minutes while you're being observed to make sure no bad reaction-- upload your vaccine card, use the app, and it will all be done. And we'll know that people are making progress towards this herd immunity.
But Charlie, you asked another really important question-- and what happens if you've had one dose and had a bad reaction? We, obviously, are not encouraging people to do anything that would be dangerous for their health. Everybody should be aware that there are reactions to the vaccine. They are typically mild. It's part of the process. You're making an immune response. So don't be concerned if there's a mild reaction.
But if there's a reaction that has you concerned, you have to talk to your health care provider. And if the advice is not to get a second dose, then, obviously, you should take the advice of your health care provider. So what are the implications? We will know that. That can still be revealed in the daily-- in our tool. We'll make sure that people have an easy way to indicate that.
Just so that you know, though, Tompkins County Health, which makes decisions about quarantine, will not consider somebody fully vaccinated unless they've had the two doses. So this might be a moving target that there is protection with one dose. One dose is definitely better than zero doses. But there will be some nuances around individuals that have only been able to receive one dose.
CHARLES VAN LOAN: Thanks, Gary. Now Gary mentioned that international students might have some extra concerns. For example, they can't get a vaccination in their home country, or they do and it's with a vaccine that isn't approved here. Wendy, what sort of advice would you give to international students as they anticipate coming back?
WENDY WOLFORD: Thanks, Charlie. So we're watching the guidance closely. And this can change, as with all things. But at this time, as Gary said, New York state only recognizes the three vaccines, so Moderna, Pfizer, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. So students who arrive on campus in the fall without one of those three vaccines, at this point, we're expecting, and it's very likely, that they'll be required to be vaccinated as soon as possible with one of those approved vaccines.
The university is looking into ways to facilitate this process. And we understand that it's not easy to think about coming to campus and needing to jump right back into a vaccination. One additional thing that I just want to say, you didn't ask this in your question, but I've been hearing that international students are concerned that they will need to come early to get vaccinated. And we don't expect that to be the case.
If you're coming from an international destination, no matter who you are, you need to quarantine for seven days and test out or quarantine for a full 10 days in New York state, whether or not you're vaccinated. So international students will need to come early enough to accommodate this quarantine period. But at this time, no extra time is needed for students who are not yet vaccinated or who are not vaccinated with one of the three vaccines accepted by New York state.
CHARLES VAN LOAN: Thanks, Wendy. There are, of course, legal issues associated with requiring vaccination. And I have two questions for Madelyn. The first one is, the current set of doses are just for emergency use, so to speak. So it's not the full approval that can come out of the FDA. Does that hamper or pose legal challenges for us in terms of requiring vaccination?
MADELYN WESSEL: Hi, Charlie. Thanks for the good question. I understand the concern. I want to start with something quite important, which is the right to require immunization is very long-settled and longstanding in US law. It's a right that attaches to protect our communities from harms, like the pandemic, that the country and the world has gone through. And the precedent in courts to require immunizations is really quite old.
Now, the question specifically here is, does that EUA status somehow change those long-standing legal principles? And our analysis is that it does not. The EUA status includes a set of internal regulatory directives to federal agencies around how drugs that have been approved in that way should be released and monitored. But they are not external-facing directives that impose limitations on either states or private employers or universities in our assessment, in the use of required immunizations as a means of managing the safety and health of our community
That the EUA status is not prohibitory in the sense, has actually also been confirmed by another federal agency. The Equal Opportunities Employment Commission issued guidance quite a while back that made clear that employers can require a coronavirus vaccination as a condition of employment. And the final point I guess I would want to make is that there's never been an EUA status in the history of this country like what's happened with these three phenomenal US-approved vaccines. They've been implemented now in tens of millions of people, with great safety, with amazing efficacy. They're quite a tool to help to control and finally eliminate this pandemic.
And we, and many others, have looked at these issues and feel that it is appropriate and reasonable for the university to require vaccination. Now, that is going to lead to your next question, Charlie, which is really about the waivers or the exceptions. And along with the ability to require immunization, there's also an important recognition of a few circumstances where we need to allow people to waive out.
Gary just alluded to one of them, which is there are medical waivers. And of course, we need to recognize and respect a medical waiver. We do that right now with the many vaccines that Cornell Health requires our students to obtain. And as we all know, in the fall, Cornell added influenza as a required vaccination. And with that additional requirement, Cornell Health implemented both medical and religious waivers.
Religious waivers are not actually required in the context of students. But they are established for employees as a matter of EEO law out of the EEOC, the same federal agency that I mentioned before. And we've decided to implement across the board with those religious and medical waivers.
The final point that was raised is one that is also important, which is if you're requiring vaccination how can you permit waivers? And that really goes to issues that Gary and Mike know far better than I. But it's about population immunity. It's about herd immunity. We don't all have to 100% be immune to have a safe community. The waivers are a small fraction of the population. And they don't destabilize the broad safety of the community. They're part of the regime of immunization. And they are calibrated to ensure that we're handling rights and responsibilities fairly and appropriately.
CHARLES VAN LOAN: Thanks, Madelyn. OK, so let's assume there's no question we're going to have people on campus who are not vaccinated. And that gets to, what happens? OK, so my first question is staff-related and goes to Mary, will employees who are not vaccinated have differing privileges or requirements than those who are vaccinated?
MARY OPPERMAN: Thanks, Charlie. So we're trying very hard to get a sense right now, which is why we're requiring that people who have been vaccinated put their information in the vaccine tracker and upload it. The differences are already occurring, and they're not occurring simply because Cornell is choosing them. Guidance from the CDC and New York state differentiates between those who have been vaccinated and those who have not.
So I'll just give you one small example. If you come in contact with a person who has tested positive and you are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic, you do not have to quarantine. The quarantine rules continue for those who are not vaccinated. So we expect those differences will continue. And we will follow them.
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Charlie, could I just add something to what Madelyn said because I think it's important. Just really quickly, vaccination doesn't just protect the vaccinated, it protects the unvaccinated as well, particularly individuals who, for medical reasons, can't get vaccinated, for religious reasons cannot get vaccinated, or who cannot mount an immune response because they're incapable of doing that. So by achieving herd immunity, we protect everyone, which is another reason for everyone to be vaccinated if you can be vaccinated.
CHARLES VAN LOAN: Thanks, Mike Lisa, so instructors-- suppose I'm teaching a small class. I happen to know that everyone's been vaccinated. Can I set my own rules? What kind of exceptions can we accord to faculty when they find themselves in situations like that? We already are dealing with that, of course, in terms of testing and things like that. So what's the stance on exceptions?
LISA NISHII: So good question. As Mike indicated earlier, we really only need to be in dedensified classrooms like we are now if vaccination rates are lower than 50% or so. And that's really unlikely to be the case. And so faculty should plan on teaching in the fall in fully occupied classrooms. And what will vary is the different precautions that we'll have in place, like mandatory masking and things like that.
I think one of the questions that we received had to do, in particular, with faculty who are teaching labs and other courses that are difficult to teach online and are also tethered to particular special-purpose classrooms, where it's just more difficult to go online temporarily, for example, and to be back in person. So again, although we don't think it's likely, we will be watching, monitoring, the vaccination rates and other public health indicators really closely. And if it looks like any adjustments are going to be needed, we will collaborate very closely with faculty of those instructors to figure out what appropriate adjustments should be made.
It is conceivable at the class level. And I think this is one of the questions that we got, that for certain classes that have to be taught in person and in labs, there's just a lot less flexibility that we might be able to look at things like class-level vaccination rates.
CHARLES VAN LOAN: Thanks. We all know everything's unpredictable sort of. The virus is unpredictable and directives coming from Albany might be unpredictable. So I have a question for Gary and a question for Mike. So Gary, how are we going to monitor the emergence of new variants? And what might this mean for us in the fall?
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah, so thanks, Charlie-- really important question. And part of it, I can give you an answer that is absolutely certain, and the other, like you said, is unpredictable. So we are going to do our very best to monitor this, and we are. So we understand the importance.
And I'll just do a quick shout out to the lab, just because we're nearing a million tests that the lab has performed. So I'll just remind you that we've got this COVID lab in-house at the Vet School that didn't exist nine months ago and has just done this amazing job helping us understand about viral prevalence on campus. Well, we've got great scientists. And they are providing an important service to New York state and to the region.
We are the sequencing lab for not just samples that are acquired on campus, but also in the region. That information is given to New York state. It's a public health question. This isn't something that gets reported for individuals, but it's really a public health contribution that our lab is making to our community.
So what do we know? I can just tell you in broad strokes what we know. We know that a lot of the predictions were right. So back in December, it was predicted by the end of March that the variant known mostly as the UK variant would likely be the majority of viruses in the country. And I think last week that was true. And that was a national trend. And it's just because that particular variant is more transmissible. And it competes with the other variants, and it wins.
The good news is that the vaccines seem to be very effective against that variant. We in Ithaca are no different than the rest of the country. We're seeing variants. But again we're seeing really, really good responses to people who have been vaccinated. So we can't predict the future entirely, Charlie. There might be other variants that will be better at escaping.
One of the notions of getting everybody vaccinated as quickly as possible is if there's less virus circulating, there's less virus that can change. And so, so far, so good. And so we can't tell you with absolute certainty. But I can tell you we're on the lookout. We're going to be careful. And we're going to respond appropriately.
CHARLES VAN LOAN: Thanks, Gary. Mike, I remember back in the fall when Albany-- when there's this thing about if we had 100 positives within two weeks and we were kind of nervous about that. And I know things like that are going to happen, directive's from Albany. Are there certain things that you're worried about? Are there certain things that Albany can do that really redirect our whole plan here? We read the papers, what should we be on the lookout for ourselves, just so that we can track what the state is doing and thinking?
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Yeah, good question, Charlie. I think the first and most important thing is, as Gary mentioned, and Martha, we've had a terrific partnership with our county public health agency. And Gary meets weekly, or more than weekly, with Frank Kruppa, our director of public health for Tompkins County. And with Cayuga Medical, we coordinate all these responses. We get kind of early warnings about what's expected.
I think it's fair to say that Cornell has been more conservative than the state in most areas. We've tried to err on the side of caution in many, many areas while still, as everyone knows, doing everything that we can to create the best kind of residential experience for our students, and the best opportunity for our faculty to continue to work and be productive.
So I don't anticipate anything stunning from the state of New York, as Martha mentioned, we're waiting on commencement guidelines. As Martha and Gary mentioned, we're waiting on vaccine distribution. We very much want to provide and facilitate for students to be vaccinated before they leave. We're hoping that we'll be able to do that in the next several weeks.
So I don't think that we will be hindered in any way by the state. And we have a good partnership. But it is true that those guidelines from the state we need to adhere to, and if they change, we will change with them.
CHARLES VAN LOAN: Thanks, Mike. Mental health issues are front and center and have been because of the pandemic. And so a couple of questions relating to that. So Gary, many of the things that make the people happy are large events-- athletic events, going to the movies, theater, and so on. How are we going to reason about opening up those sorts of venues?
And we had a very good question about this mask-wearing itself really affects people's outgoing-ness and so on. So how do we think about relaxing these things for mental health reasons? Clearly, it's an important issue.
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah, Charlie. You know, this is the central issue. When is it not just seeing the light at the end of the tunnel but being at the end of the tunnel? And I actually remember vaguely going to restaurants. And I enjoyed it. And it would be great to be able to do that again. So the answer to the question is, everybody, I think, involved in this is incredibly eager to say, hey, this is over. The restrictions are done. Life is back to normal.
But again, as Martha said, we're not there yet. I think if the question is for the fall, I am incredibly optimistic about the fall. And I must say, the pace at which this vaccine has become available and the efficacy, the effectiveness, is just absolutely remarkable. And there were all of these questions that hadn't yet been answered and we're beginning to get the answer.
So one big question was, we knew that the vaccine prevented bad disease, would it also prevent people from becoming infected and transmitting that disease? Because if it didn't, then the vaccine would be incredibly useful to prevent people from getting really sick but less useful in preventing transmission. Well, it looks really good. So all of the signs are really good. We're going to be learning more. More and more people will become vaccinated.
So without having a corner on a crystal ball, I would say that in the fall, people are going to be able to enjoy those activities. Will it all happen at once? Probably not, that there'll be some things that will be allowed, that the gatherings will become bigger, that having been vaccinated might give you more opportunities as we're becoming-- and this is at the societal level, this is at the governmental level-- in providing opportunities to do things. But that will gradually increase.
And as we've been talking about, not everybody has to be vaccinated before society becomes back to normal. There just have to be enough people vaccinated. So if there is somebody infected and they bump into somebody, that person is more likely to be vaccinated than not, so that the progression stops, the transmission stops. When we reach that level, then people are going to be able to do more things.
My guess is that mask-wearing will probably be the last thing to go. It's been incredibly effective. And I think that people are still a little bit gun-shy about allowing all of these protections to be released. And I think that we're going to be deciding this as a society. Cornell, of course, will never allow something that New York state does not allow, or the CDC argues is a bad idea. We might even be a little bit more protective because we've got this large population that is still not yet vaccinated. But I think that the end of the tunnel is really there.
CHARLES VAN LOAN: Thanks, Gary. Lisa, I know your team has thought a lot about mental health, just to pick one topic, the breaks, the wellness days, and so on. I'm just wondering-- we have a question here about when is the fall schedule going to be decided-- probably sometime in the summer-- and what's the latest theory of breaks and travel and things like that that we have to pay attention to as we head to the fall?
LISA NISHII: Sure. So actually the academic calendar for the next academic year is already posted on the university registrar's website. We are going to proceed with the academic calendar that was in place, actually, pre-COVID. So classes will start on August 26.
We'll have the usual two-day fall break-- it's a Monday, Tuesday-- in October. And then Thanksgiving break, which officially starts at noon on Wednesday before Thanksgiving. And then instruction will end on Tuesday, December 7th. And the last day of exams will be Saturday, December 18. And so it's really what our semester, our fall semester, looked like prior to COVID.
CHARLES VAN LOAN: Just a quick follow up, the current semester, what's your reading of student mental health? How do you feel about that, in general? The status of it?
LISA NISHII: Well, I mean, I think it's been incredibly tough for everybody, for faculty and students alike. This semester, this year, has been incredibly difficult. And also being cooped up inside for a lot of people and having less social interaction has been very difficult. I know for students, being on Zoom all day and taking classes online has also been difficult. So we're very aware that people are ready for this to be over as soon as possible.
CHARLES VAN LOAN: Thank you. OK, now we'll go on to an interesting flip side here, which is to say lots of questions of the following form-- I like remote working, teaching, learning, and don't want to give it up entirely. So how will the university respond to these sorts of inclinations? On the one hand, maybe the new normal should be the old normal, where COVID-19 is reduced to severe flu status.
So I have questions, particularly for Mary, Lisa, Wendy, and Gary. So Mary, here's a particular question from staff-- how will decisions be made regarding remote work going forward for those staff that have thrived in a remote environment and do not have forward-facing roles in the university? And we have flexible work options, i.e. work in the office two to three days and at home two to three days. Anyway, how are we thinking about all these things in human resources?
MARY OPPERMAN: Thanks, Charlie. And before I tackle that tough question but important question, I just want to take a minute to thank the staff who have demonstrated incredible resilience through this difficult time. Some of you have been here the whole time. Your work has not left the campus, and you've been busy here. And others, we told you to go home and kind of figure it out with us. And you've found your way back to being able to contribute. So I just want to begin with a hearty thank-you.
As we do with all changes, we begin with our purpose and mission. We are a residential institution, and our top priority is the student experience. And so as we think about this request-- and we are getting a lot of this. People, many, not all, many people have found the flexibility to be able to work at home extremely important. We will look at it first through the lens of our purpose and the student experience. And then from the standpoint of getting work accomplished in the most effective and efficient way.
We are looking right now at the principles that we will apply both for individual and organizational considerations of flexibility and potentially fully-remote work. I do want to respond to a question that came through in the chat, which is, if someone chooses not to be vaccinated, will they, then, be able to stay home? Well, I want to say that if there is a reason that they cannot be vaccinated, either medical or religious, we will use our accommodation process to determine the best way for that individual to continue to contribute. But we will not make decisions on which people will work from home or in the office based on their personal decision around vaccines. We will make it based on the work they do and how that contribution impacts the student experience.
CHARLES VAN LOAN: Thanks. Switching to the classroom and teaching and so on. So many students like the idea of remote learning, at least in part. So here's a quote, "I love the flexibility that online classes allow. I love being able to rewatch my lectures, strengthen my notes. Will online instruction continue to be offered even if things return to normal?" And of course, as faculty a lot of us have discovered that having an online component really works great, and so on.
So how are we going to-- so we're not going to go back to the old way entirely. But how do we navigate this sort of tension, if you will, between online and in person? So Lisa, how do you look at this very hard question?
LISA NISHII: Sure. So like we've said throughout this Town Hall, students and faculty should plan on returning to pre-COVID modes of instruction-- that is, where all students are attending class in person. This means that online instruction will not continue to be offered in the fall semester. And I realize there is this tension, that a lot of students have enjoyed the extra flexibility that recorded lecturers have afforded or the ability to participate online.
We've also seen from-- well, there are a few reasons, that even though that's the case, that it really makes sense for us to return to fully in-person instruction. So first, I mean, it's exciting that we can do this. We were just talking about mental health a little bit ago. And it's been an incredibly difficult year. And being able to return to the classroom in the ways and interact with students and faculty will be, I think, really great for students.
We've also seen, though, and this is part of the tension, that from data that we've collected and from observations that faculty have shared, that when students have chosen to participate online instead of in-person when an in-person opportunity was available and where they relied a lot on recorded lectures, that that impacted negatively. It seems to be negatively impacting students-- that is, their overall workload and also their performance in classes.
So it can be both good and bad. And we need to watch that. But there's also another issue, which is that during this pandemic here, we've been in a small subset of our classrooms that we have managed to equip with the AV needed to record the lectures in a way that students who aren't in the classroom can participate. And unfortunately, it's not as easy as setting up Zoom and hitting record because we need to be able to capture students and what they're saying in the classroom, and also visually capture more than just the screen, depending on the kind of class that it is.
When we move back into fully occupied classrooms, we're going to be using many, many more of our classrooms that, quite simply, are not set up to be able to just hit a button and record. And so that's going to limit the availability of recordings, anyway. With that said, I think that there are a lot of tools and strategies that faculty have adopted, as you said, Charlie. People have enjoyed and discovered new ways of teaching throughout this pandemic that I think will carry forward into the next academic year, even when we return to in-person instruction.
So some faculty, for example, may have created video assets that they'll incorporate in some way into their in-person classes. There are also a lot of ways that faculty have learned-- new ways faculty have learned to engage students and to really promote collaboration in the classroom. And so there's polling and we've got discussion boards within Canvas, different ways of using accessible technology to enhancing inclusion and collaboration among students like shared documents.
Hypothesis is something that faculty have been using where students can annotate readings together-- that is, share their thoughts, reflections, questions, and really help each other to learn the material more deeply. There's something called Flipgrid, JamBoard. There are all these tools that faculty have used that I anticipate they'll continue to use. The one thing to remember is, students who have disabilities will continue to register through Student Disability Services to get any sort of accommodations that they might need in the next academic year, as is the case in all years.
CHARLES VAN LOAN: Thanks, Lisa. So all these have ramifications. Maybe slightly different ramifications for international students. And Wendy, I wonder if you can talk to us about that, in particular the fall and the Study Away program and how things are going to be different for international students compared to the current semester.
WENDY WOLFORD: Yeah, thanks Charlie. Unfortunately, Lisa's answer just sort of highlighted what the new normal is going to look like for international students, as well, in the fall. We realize that it's going to be hard for some of our international students to get to campus in the fall. We really hope that all of them, of course, will be back on campus. But we know that there are countries where the consulates are not processing these appointments quickly. And in some cases, only doing emergency appointments.
So we recognize that there are real challenges there. We're watching the situation closely and working with all of our peers on advocacy and other measures. But we understand that this is really difficult for international students. As Lisa said, faculty will not be asked to provide online access for their courses. So we won't be able to offer Study Away again because Study Away was predicated on students being able to take the majority of their classes from Ithaca.
International students will have a few options. And most of those options really require them to work closely with their advisors, their departments, or their programs. So working with your advisors to see what kind of flexibility might be possible, particularly at the beginning of this semester. But these curricular accommodations, including something as maybe extreme as a leave of absence, those are decided at the college level. And so students really should be in close contact with their departments.
Professional and graduate students, there may be options there. And so they should consult with their program about what flexibility there may be for those programs. There was a question in the Q&A about alternatives for international students who are hesitant to return to campus. And we have been hearing this from some international students, a concern about the public safety or health of campus.
I think, and I hope, that you've heard in this webinar, and in past ones, that a tremendous amount of work has been done to make the campus a safe place. And we hope that this conversation, and conversations over the next several months, can address any source of hesitancy that you might feel about returning. But please, always reach out to the advisors in international services or reach out to me so that we can discuss.
CHARLES VAN LOAN: Thanks, Wendy. Here's a question for Gary from a student. And it's pretty much about the student's view of what the new normal might be. And it goes like this-- we now have a much better understanding of the disease and a broad set of tools to fight it. Why not, rather, allow some level of transmission on campus if severe outcomes are much less likely than previously? So Gary, that's a complicated question. I'd be interested in hearing how you think about it.
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah. Thanks. It is a complicated question. And this is, obviously, an issue with every infectious disease, every disease that's transmissible, right? I actually will respectfully disagree with one of the premises, the premise that we now have a broad set of tools to fight COVID. Boy, do I wish that was true. But we don't. We have some drugs that reduce the time of being in the ICU. They've been shown to do that. They reduce the time of being intubated, being on a respirator.
The whole idea is not to be on a respirator in the first place. So the only tools we really have right now to combat COVID are the personal protective measures that everybody knows about, so many people are doing, and everybody's sick of. But they work. And until we had a vaccine, that was all we had. And that was why we had such onerous restrictions that were put in place because the consequence of not doing that was extreme. Even doing that to the best of our ability-- what's the number now-- 560,000 Americans have died of this disease.
Today, I think, even though we know more, we're better at this, there are eight patients in Cayuga Medical Center with COVID. That's tracked every day. And that's eight people that would be great if they weren't in the hospital with COVID. So I think the answer is, is that the vaccine is going to be the only tool that we'll have to mitigate all of these restrictions.
I, personally, am not comfortable with the notion that we're at a point now where the disease can take its course. Now, at some point we'll be there. When there are enough people that are immunized, when the prevalence is low enough, there'll still be COVID, but we won't be wearing masks, and we won't be distanced. But it will be this balance, that our risk tolerance will be such that we'll say, life is dangerous, there is some risk.
You know, there's risk of tuberculosis. There are risks of other bad diseases. And we try to take precautions, and we're thoughtful about them. But we're not there yet with COVID. But there's still-- I don't know what the number was yesterday-- 70,000 individuals that were diagnosed with COVID yesterday in the United States.
So once were there, once the prevalence is down, once more people are immunized, the restrictions can be taken away. And we're all looking forward to that. So that's the light at the end of the tunnel. And we're going to get there.
CHARLES VAN LOAN: OK, thanks. Stay on the line here, though, Gary. I want to ask you a question about privacy and whatever. So immense amounts of very personal data is being uploaded, and so on. What sort of precautions are we taking about this? How can we inspire confidence that privacy will remain confidential and be maintained? Also, Madelyn, I'd like to hear your take on this. So Gary, again, how are we handling that?
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah so I'm going to share this answer with Madelyn because she has been my muse and also a very frequent phone and Zoom companion about every step of the way. So maybe I'll just start by saying that we recognize the importance of people's privacy. But we also recognize that we're in a very, very unusual time now. And there is information that is actionable and is really important.
I'm trying to-- oh, I think it was Madelyn who already mentioned-- oh, Mary-- that if you are known to have been vaccinated and you are a contact of somebody with COVID, then you won't be asked to leave work, or you won't be asked to go home if you're a student. And so there has to be this balance, where it's not advertised that people don't wear a different color shirt if they're vaccinated versus those who aren't. But the people that are critical for making the decision around safety on campus will be privy to information like, are you vaccinated, so that in the old days, like three weeks ago, if you were a contact, we told you to go home.
There were no questions asked about that. You went home if you were a contact with somebody with COVID. Now it's nuanced. And we have to be able to provide the right people with the tools that they need to ask and answer those questions while preserving the privacy. So there are lots of things in place. And I'm going to just ask Madelyn to amplify on that, to give people assurances.
MADELYN WESSEL: Well, sure, Gary. And you've been my muse and wonderful colleague throughout this amazing complex process as well. I want to reassure people that an enormous amount of attention has been paid to the safety, the security, of the technology systems that this data is being held in. The systems are separate. They're not accessible by anyone who has not been officially viewed as appropriate and necessary to access the data.
Much data, of course, is held around our students in Cornell Health, which is subject to federal privacy laws. But the limited material that's in the daily check is also held in a very secure system and is only accessible to a very limited number of people, the people that Gary just referenced who really have to have this information to keep the campus safe. This continues to be a driving principle for everyone. And as we look at the different ways that we need to, and should, use vaccination data for example, in a way that's helpful to all of us, we're continuing to be absolutely committed to privacy and security.
CHARLES VAN LOAN: Thanks, Madelyn. And here's a question for Mike. Considering underrepresented minorities have suffered disproportionately in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and death, will Cornell offer an alternative online model for high-risk members of these groups to attend class?
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: So as Gary mentioned, Charlie, COVID-19 is now a preventable disease. I want to start by saying that the most effective way to prevent the kinds of unequal outcomes that you're referring to, which are absolutely true and really a terrible embarrassment for the country, is to get vaccinated. And we are doing everything that we can to facilitate that vaccination.
But I do want to start with the notion that we have lots of resources to talk about why it's important to be vaccinated, the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, the fact that it's going through tens of thousands of trial participants before these three vaccines were approved, and now more than 100 million instances of vaccinated individuals in the US with overwhelmingly safe outcomes. So the best way to achieve, now, protection against this disease is for everyone to be vaccinated.
Having said that, I understand that beneath that question is the issue of individuals who have historic and other reasons to have some suspicion around vaccinations. And those are real issues that we need to address. Our student health program is well positioned to have those conversations and those discussions. And they are the individuals who will oversee the exemption process for our students.
So those exemptions are in place. They're available to our students. But I do want to personally urge everyone to use the tools, these phenomenal tools, that have been produced that will protect everyone, including, as I said before, the unvaccinated.
CHARLES VAN LOAN: Thanks, Mike. All right. We're down to the last three minutes here. Two quickies for Gary. Several people have mentioned that after six months the effect of the vaccination wears off. Are we ready for that? And well, let's just, maybe, deal with that one question.
GARY KORETZKY: Yeah. Yeah, so we don't know that, that after six months the effect will wear off. If everybody might recall, when the vaccines first came out, your protection was good for 90 days. And the reason why is, we only had 90 days of experience, right? Now we have six months of experience. And we know they're still good for six months. That was a Pfizer report.
My guess is that in another six months we're going to know that they're good for a year. Now, that's not to say that there may be a requirement for boosters. We don't know that, yet. But the reason why the CDC is saying six months, it's really hard to say you're protected for two years when the vaccine hasn't even been in existence for that period of time. So this is all evolving, and we're learning. And we're going to keep abreast of all of that and certainly try to make sure we communicate it.
But it's my fervent hope that these vaccines are going to afford protection much longer than six months. It just remains to be seen. The T cell response suggests that that will happen. But we just have to wait.
CHARLES VAN LOAN: OK, thanks an awful lot, Gary. This brings us towards the end. I'm just wondering, Mike, would you like to sort of sum up the whole thing?
MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: Well, I'll turn it to Martha. But I'll just briefly say that we want a normal fall. We're doing everything that we can to achieve a normal fall. I do want to congratulate the campus and all the work that's been done so far. We are about to celebrate an enormous number of tests on campus. Gary, you'll probably be angry at me for revealing this, but we're going to go over the million test mark in not too long.
It's been a remarkable accomplishment. The overwhelming behavior of our students, faculty, and staff has been incredible. And I think we all feel that we've really achieved something over the past year in creating the best kind of experience that we could, under these incredible conditions. So thanks, everybody. Please stay with us. There'll be more to come. There's lots of questions here. But I turn it to Martha.
MARTHA POLLACK: Thanks, Mike. And really, I just want to repeat what you said. I don't think we can thank our faculty, our staff, our students, our alumni, our family enough for all they've done over the past year. It's really just been quite a journey for all of us.
Please remember that we're not at the end of that journey, so keep doing all those public health practices that are so important. Get yourself vaccinated. Upload the data. I've been vaccinated. I uploaded my data on Monday. It's easy to do. It's really quite easy to do.
And we can hang in just a little bit longer. I really do think that the future looks like what it looks like outside. I just want to say one more thing, and that is that there have been, looks like, about 45 questions or so. There have been a whole bunch of good questions posted that we didn't get to. We will sort through those. We'll curate them. And we'll try to get something up on the COVID.Cornell.edu site to answer more of the good questions that we weren't able to get to today. Thank you all and have a really good day.
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Faculty, students, and staff gathered virtually to discuss fall semester planning, April 8 on Zoom.