This article was originally published in the Cornell Daily Sun on Sept. 1.
Less than four days after the University announced that a cluster of nine students had tested positive for COVID-19, the Tompkins County Health Department said that another 12 individuals who were close contacts of them have contracted the virus — bringing the total number of new campus cases in the past week to 24.
Like the results released on Friday, County Health Director Frank Kruppa said during a Tuesday meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature that the cases were related to gatherings “where mask and distancing guidance was not adhered to,” the Ithaca Voice reported. As of Tuesday night, neither Cornell nor the county health department have released a more detailed statement.
According to Kruppa, the new cases stem from individuals — already in quarantine — who had previously interacted with the nine individuals who tested positive last Friday, meaning the risk of additional exposure may be low. The individuals, along with those who may have had significant exposure to them, are being placed into mandatory isolation.
As students return back to campus, Tompkins County has experienced a small uptick in coronavirus cases, many of which have been linked directly to Cornell. In the past seven days, the county has reported 29 total new cases, up from just 8 the week before.
Cornell’s previous cluster prompted a stern email from Vice President of Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi on Sunday, who urged students that “now is not the time to test boundaries.” According to Lombardi, “some students” have been placed on temporary suspension for violating Cornell’s Behavioral Compact, which places strict limits on the size of gatherings and mandates the use of face coverings.
The number of COVID-19 cases is so far significantly less than at other colleges that faced a major outbreak to begin their semester — the University of Notre Dame and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill both quickly logged around 150 cases before being forced to backtrack on plans to reopen campus.
However, the cases come just as Cornell is set to launch its surveillance testing, an ambitious program that will dramatically increase the pace and scope of coronavirus monitoring. Starting Sept. 3, all undergraduate students located in the Ithaca area will begin being tested twice a week, while most graduate students will be tested once a week.
Provost Michael Kotlikoff previously said that Cornell would consider closing campus if the number of new cases in a week eclipsed 250; however, this rough benchmark was quickly upended by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.), who days later announced that colleges with over 100 new cases must transition to “remote learning for two weeks.”