(Photo of Cornell's Arts Quad, courtesy of the university)

TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. –– After announcing that students would return in September, Cornell University and Tompkins County officials have now responded to concerns regarding the impending reopening posed by Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton in a list of 20 questions based off constituent’s most frequently asked questions.

At the end of June, Cornell announced that they will begin the fall semester with a mix of in-person and virtual instruction on Sept. 2. Now just over a month away, anxiety has grown as the September reopening looms and local coronavirus infections continue to increase.

Lifton submitted her 20 questions last Monday and was met with answers from Cornell University President Martha Pollack, Tompkins County Public Health Director Frank Kruppa and Tompkins Legislature Chair Leslyn McBean Clairborne at the end of last week.

Lifton seems satisfied with the answers she received, and hopeful that the reopening plan can be successful.

“I have spoken directly with Cornell about their testing regimen, which has been one of my greatest concerns, and I am encouraged at what certainly seems, to this non-expert, to be a rigorous and accurate testing protocol with a turnaround time of 24 hours or less, which will allow for effective contact tracing,” Lifton said in an email. “Cornell and local governments say they are committed to rigorous enforcement and consequences, including possible expulsion, for violators. For many in the community, concerns about enforcement – and whether quarantines can be successfully carried out – are paramount, and I do think that Cornell and the County have clearly done a great deal of serious, science-based work to mitigate those concerns and others.”

Amongst the answers were reassurances that any student who wants to continue remote learning will be able to do so, and that students who do decide to return to campus will undergo testing protocols paid for by the University.

Additionally, a major concern has been the possibility that Cornell’s population could overwhelm Tompkins County health facilities if there were to be a university-related outbreak.

“Dr. Peter Frazier, who conducted modeling of Cornell’s campus…hypothesizes that, based on the numbers in our current model, the number of cases in Cornell faculty, staff and students resulting in infections of individuals not associated with Cornell will be quite small. This is due in large part to the testing program Cornell has established, which will quickly identify asymptomatic individuals, place them in isolation and allow the Tompkins County Health Department to conduct contact tracing to minimize the spread to others,” the joint response to Lifton’s question says.

Cornell President Pollack said that in addition to her response to Assemblywoman Lifton, Cornell has also submitted their official plan to the New York State Department of Health for approval.

Read the full response to Assemblywoman Lifton’s questions below.

Cornell, Tompkins County Response to Reopening Concerns by Thomas Pudney on Scribd

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