Cornell University shuts down campus, moves to online finals amid COVID outbreak, evidence of omicron variant

ITHACA, N.Y. (WHEC) — Cornell University Tuesday announced it would shut down most of its campus, and move its final exams online amid a COVID outbreak, including evidence of the Omicron variant.

In a statement posted online by university president Martha Pollack, Cornell said all university-sponsored events, including its winter graduation ceremony, are canceled immediately. Any games planned for Sunday were also canceled.

The announcement comes after the university’s COVID dashboard showed 469 active cases, with 214 new positives as of Monday. The heightened cases triggered the campus’s "Red Alert" protocols, which indicate a high risk of spread. In her statement, Pollack said the university’s lab found evidence of the highly contagious Omicron variant in a "significant number" of the new positives.

Cornell Statement by News10NBC on Scribd

The president added the evidence is "preliminary" and noted the university is waiting on more sequencing to confirm Omicron’s presence.

"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 said.

In her COVID briefing Tuesday, New York Gov.Kathy Hochul said the state has confirmed at least 38 Omicron cases, with most coming out of New York City.

Ahead of growing Delta variant cases over the summer, the university previously reinstated a mask policy. The university also required student vaccinations, though it did allow religious or medical exemptions. According to its dashboard, 97% of the on-campus population is vaccinated. The university does not have a requirement for people to get a booster dose, though it does encourage it.

For students still on campus, Cornell is allowing students who tested negative within the last two days to leave. It is encouraging those students to take a test once they get home, and self-quarantine while they wait on results. Other students who have not received a test are asked to stay in the area until results come back.

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