Dec. 15, 2021 -- Cornell University reported 930 new coronavirus cases among students and staff Dec. 7-13, with a “very high percentage” identified as Omicron variant cases in fully vaccinated people.
The university’s COVID-19 dashboard was updated on Tuesday afternoon, showing that 227 positives had been identified on Saturday, followed by 214 on Sunday and 276 on Monday.
“Virtually every case of the Omicron variant to date has been found in fully vaccinated students, a portion of whom had also received a booster shot,” Joel Malina, the vice president for university relations, told CNN.
The university’s main campus in Ithaca, NY, moved to “Alert Level Red” on Tuesday, indicating a high level of transmission. Final exams were moved online, the Dec. 18 recognition ceremony for graduates was canceled, and social gatherings were canceled.
Athletic events were also canceled, and most visitors are barred from campus, though some offices and labs will remain open.
“While I want to provide reassurance that, to date, we have not seen severe illness in any of our infected students, we do have a role to play in reducing the spread of the disease in the broader community,” Martha Pollack, PhD, the university’s president, said in a statement about the new measures.
“It is obviously extremely dispiriting to have to take these steps,” she said. “However, since the start of the pandemic, our commitment has been to follow the science and do all we can to protect the health of our faculty, staff and students.”
Cornell has a mandatory vaccination policy for students, with exemptions for religious or medical issues, CNN reported. All unvaccinated students and many vaccinated students are required to do surveillance testing, and everyone is required to wear masks indoors.
Employees are required to be vaccinated by Jan. 18. So far, 97% of the “on-campus population” is fully vaccinated, according to the university’s latest vaccination data. The university isn’t requiring people to get a booster shot, but officials are encouraging people to get an extra dose as breakthrough cases occur, CNN reported.
Pollack noted that testing has found the hallmark identifier of the Omicron variant in a “substantial number of virus samples,” but the evidence is still “preliminary.” Now the samples will have genomic sequencing.
“While we must await confirmatory sequencing information to be sure that the source is Omicron, we are proceeding as if it is,” she said.
Other colleges have taken measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus on campus, according to The New York Times. Last week, Middlebury College in Vermont moved to remote instruction for the rest of the semester. DePaul University in Chicago and Southern New Hampshire University also said they would switch to remote instruction when classes resume in January.