Barbara Lifton

New York State Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton from her 2018 town hall in Ithaca. 

New York State Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton has written a letter to Cornell University's administration asking for clarification on the school's reactivation plans, listing 20 questions she would like answered by school President Martha Pollack in advance of their re-opening. The letter is additionally addressed to Tompkins County Legislature Chair Leslyn McBean-Clairborne and Tompkins County Health Director Frank Kruppa. 

The questions are split into five sections: rationale for the decision to reopen for in-person instruction this fall, testing and tracing, plans for enforcement, plans for quarantine and state approval. Read the full question document at the bottom of the page. 

"I have heard from a number of constituents over the past several weeks with their concerns and questions about the plans for reopening of the University (as well as for Ithaca College)," the letter to the school said. "While I have been trying to follow the discussion closely, I thought it best to try to summarize the questions on which some are seeking further clarification, and send them to you."

Separately, Lifton sent a letter to Dr. Howard Zucker, the state's Commissioner of Health, asking that he make sure the questions are answered before approving the plan. Cornell spokesperson John Carberry confirmed that the plan has been sent to the state for approval. 

"While it may be that Cornell has adequately responded to some of these questions in their plan, in the best interests of the overall health of the Ithaca community and surrounding region, I hope that you will assure that all of these questions are fully addressed as you review the plan," Lifton wrote to Zucker. 

The letter is the most formal questioning of Cornell's plan thus far, though Lifton frames it as simply looking for further details on behalf of members of the community and not exactly as if she's opposed to the plan. She does, though, press the school on its now-notorious infection model that claims the school's population is better off with a hybrid in-person/online approach because it enables more surveillance and testing than an all-online approach. Speaking on behalf of the community, Lifton does give voice to a significant portion of the community that is fearful of the return of college students and the impact they could have on the county's coronavirus containment so far. 

"Wouldn’t 1,200+ new COVID-19 cases alone overwhelm the Tompkins County Health Department? Might the resulting hospitalizations overwhelm the surge capacity of the hospital?" Lifton wrote. "Is Cornell planning to invest additional resources into the Tompkins County Health Department -- for example, to support increased health care provider staffing -- to assist with the additional burden that would be placed on them due to Cornell’s reopening?"

Lifton also asked if Cornell would be revisiting its case projections in light of the recent jump in COVID-19 cases locally, and if they would potentially be changing their decision depending on what any updated reflections project. She also asks if it's true that Cornell has "requested an exception to the 14-day, in-state quarantine rule for those coming from high-COVID-19 states" so that students could instead quarantine for 14 days in their home states before getting to Ithaca. 

"If true, what is the rationale for this special treatment for Cornell students?" Lifton asked. 

Here are the questions Lifton sent to the school, Kruppa, McBean-Clairborne and Zucker. 

(1) comment

Elisabeth Hegarty

Thank you, Ms. Lifton, for asking for clarification of Cornell's plans to reopen. When I read their documents, I was horrified when I saw how many cases would be expected to come into the region as a result of Cornell reopening. We'd only had 166 cases through early June, now suddenly up 39 cases as students and young people party in and return to the area from local parties and from other states for vacation and upcoming study. How could our small hospitals handle between 700 and 1200 more cases (even if things go well)? The general population who lives in this area should not be subjected to exposure from so many new cases. Ms. Pollack of Cornell had noted in her press release, "We expect blow-back" from the community. My question is, how many deaths will result from the 'blow-back'? Finally, Cornell's study was done just prior to the major hot spots in the other states. What about now? Will Cornell's model change? To permit so many out of state students to enter Ithaca from these hot spot states (especially with a dispensation from Governor Cuomo about the 14 day quarantine rule) appears to be terribly irresponsible and not at all considering the health and welfare of Tompkins County residents. Yes, it is difficult to for the students to only study online but, as we learn more about this virus, this situation may only have to last for several more months, not forever. The alternative is permanent for those who might lose their lives.

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