ITHACA, N.Y. –– Cornell University is asking students to leave campus at the start of spring break and to remain at their permanent home residence, as the school prepares to transition to online instruction — in hopes to minimize the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

“The policies that we have put in place to date are extremely important, but the time has come for us to do even more,” a statement from Cornell President Martha Pollack says.

Transitioning to online-only instruction is a move that many colleges across the nation are making. Along with that announcement, Cornell is also prohibiting gatherings of more than 100 people, even if it is only Cornell students and faculty, as well as discouraging domestic travel, once students leave for spring break. Restrictions previously placed on international travel remain in place, according to Pollack’s statement.

Other new restrictions at Cornell

Cornell graduate and professional students involved in individual rotations or doing individual research are being permitted by the university to continue their programs but must limit travel and group activities consistent with policies announced last week.

Cornell University last week announced a travel ban on all Cornell-related student travel to international destinations until further notice, with special attention and a stringent ban on Cornell-related travel to CDC Level 3 areas (mainland China, South Korea, Italy and Iran), as well as Japan. Any student, faculty or staff member returning to the United States from a CDC Level 3 country or Japan is required to undergo quarantine at their permanent home residence for a minimum of 14 days prior to returning to campus.

In addition, Cornell is tightening policies for group events to prohibit all nonessential events of more than 100 people, on and off-campus, even when they include only members of the Cornell community. This excludes classroom teaching through March 27 (the start of spring break.)

The university is also strongly discouraging university-sponsored events that bring outside guests to campus, strongly discouraging all domestic travel, both personal and Cornell-related, and implementing further enhanced cleaning procedures for our facilities.

“Please also know that these decisions were made only with great reluctance. I recognize how disruptive they will be and how much disappointment they will cause, especially the decision to move to virtual instruction. We are asking students to miss out on the enormous value of face-to-face instruction and on the camaraderie of their peers. I appreciate that this will be especially disappointing for our graduating seniors,” Pollack’s statement says.

The transition to online learning will begin on Monday, April 6.

All students who live on campus will receive detailed instructions from the Cornell housing office regarding move-out procedures as well as a process for submitting a petition to stay in on-campus housing for those who are unable to return to their permanent home residence at the beginning of spring break. Students who remain on campus will also complete their coursework virtually, and while dining halls will remain open, students should expect severely limited on-campus activities.

The Ithaca campus will remain open, and all faculty and staff will continue their regular work schedules.

Also, given the number of confirmed cases in New York City, the university has decided to cease in-person instruction at Cornell Tech and all New York City-based programming, including classes at AAP, the Johnson School and the ILR conference center at 570 Lexington. Cornell Tech’s transition will take place on March 12 with other NYC programs to follow. (Weill Cornell Medicine has already announced its move to online instruction.)

Tompkins County’s continues to monitor possible cases

There remain no confirmed cases in Tompkins County, and the one person isolated over the weekend has tested negative and been released from isolation. However, two more people are being tested and have been placed in isolation.

“As of today, we have two persons under investigation (PUI) in Tompkins County,” reads an update from the Tompkins County Health Department Tuesday afternoon. “This means that the individuals were evaluated by a health care provider, samples were collected and sent to a lab to be tested for COVID-19, and the individuals were placed in isolation with daily monitoring by community health nurses.”

What does this mean for Ithaca?

City of Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick, reached on Tuesday afternoon, says they are doing everything they can to address the crisis locally. But Myrick also says that the state — and especially the federal government — are going to need to step in to help protect the medical and economic well-being of people across the county.

“I already spoke with the decision-makers at Cornell and expressed to them my deep concern as to what this will mean for our local business and workers and what it will mean for them. Lost jobs, lost shifts. At hotels, restaurants, bars, and retail stores all through Tompkins County, this could be a shock unlike we have ever seen before,” said Myrick. “There is no plan for losing the business of the 2 or 3 biggest spending months from students. The school said they would work with us, their first priority is preventing a larger public health crisis, and I support that. But I have asked them to work with us, as well as the state and federal governments, to develop a plan that will support our local economy and make sure that all the pain isn’t borne on the back of our lowest-paid workers.”

If this is the conversation that is happening at Cornell and in Ithaca, it is likely happening at schools and universities across the county. A response of that magnitude would almost certainly require Congressional intervention. As to what comes next, Myrick says the only path forward is continuing to collaborate locally — with the colleges, the Tompkins County Department of Health and local business leaders — and to push the state and federal administrations to help out.

“It’s now a war on two fronts. How do we keep people healthy and how do you keep our economy moving? I’m prepared to do everything that we can do at the city level,” said Myrick. “But the scale of these problems, the ripple effects are absolutely unprecedented — I have no doubt that our local tools are not going to be enough.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated the wrong date for when all instruction would be online. All instruction will be online by April 6.

Thomas Giery Pudney contributed to this report

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at