: Cornell partially shuts down its campus due to more than 900 COVID-19 cases in possible omicron outbreak
Cornell University has partially shut down its Ithaca, N.Y., campus due to a “rapid spread” of COVID-19 cases among the student body, the Ivy League school announced Tuesday.
The university’s online COVID dashboard counted 469 active student cases as of Tuesday afternoon. It was updated later in the day to count 903 students testing positive between December 7-13, with school officials telling CNN that a “very high percentage” of them are omicron variant cases in fully vaccinated people. Some 97% of Cornell’s population is fully vaccinated.
“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,” Vice President for University Relations Joel Malina told CNN.
University president Martha E. Pollack posted a statement online updating the campus community to the worsening COVID outbreak on Tuesday. And she revealed that lab tests have identified evidence of the highly contagious omicron variant in a “significant number” of Monday’s COVID-19 positive student samples. But she cautioned that their evidence of omicron is “preliminary” after PCR testing identified a genetic marker that has been identified as a hallmark of the omicron variant. So while the school awaits confirmatory sequencing information, it is proceeding as if omicron is the source of the outbreak.
“As a result, and out of an abundance of caution, the university is moving to Alert Level Red and announcing a number of immediate measures, outlined below,” she wrote.
The emergency measures include moving all final exams online as of noon on Tuesday.
All undergraduate university activities and university-sponsored events are canceled — and that includes the Dec. 18 graduation ceremony for December graduates.
Students who have tested negative for COVID-19 within the past 48 hours (Saturday or Sunday) who wish to leave campus are allowed, and they are encouraged to wear face masks and take another COVID-19 test when they reach their destination, and self-quarantine until they learn the results.
Students who have not tested negative for COVID within the past 48 hours are advised to get tested ASAP and stay in Ithaca, in their residences, and to “severely limit” their interactions with others until they get their COVID test results.
The campus is not on complete lockdown. Offices and labs will remain open, and student dining areas are still open — although students are encouraged to grab their food and go back to their residences. But many facilities, including libraries, fitness centers and gyms, are closed.
In the meantime, visitors and guests are not allowed on campus, except for those picking up students for the winter break. And those visitors are urged to keep their masks on.
Finally, mandatory COVID testing will continue as normal for employees.
Cornell began trending on Twitter in the hours after news of the partial campus shutdown broke, sparking almost 13,000 tweets as of 5 p.m. ET.
“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,” Pollack wrote.
Cornell’s last full day of classes was Dec. 7, and final exams are scheduled through Dec. 18.
The campus closure came the same day that Pfizer Inc.
shared some possible good news in the fight against the novel coronavirus: final data from a late-stage trial of its COVID-19 antiviral drug paxlovid found that it reduced the risk of hospitalization or death in high-risk adults by 89% if given shortly after the onset of symptoms, confirming the first set of data released last month.
What’s more, the trial found that paxlovid was effective in treating the omicron variant in lab studies. The World Health Organization has warned that omicron is spreading faster than any prior variant and could overwhelm health systems, even if cases remain milder.
The U.S. is still averaging almost 1,300 deaths a day from COVID, according to a Times tracker, and cases and hospitalizations are rising. On Tuesday, the U.S. passed 50 million confirmed cases of COVID.