Cornell University called a “red alert” for students on Tuesday, moving all finals online, canceling campus events and closing facilities as COVID-19 infections mount.

“Since our message on Saturday, our surveillance tests have continued to identify the rapid spread of COVID-19 among our student body,” University president Martha Pollack said in a statement posted online. While the caseload of faculty and staff currently remains low, last night our COVID-19 testing lab team identified evidence of the highly contagious variant of Omicron in a significant number of samples of positive Monday students. “

According to Cornell’s COVID dashboard, positive tests were multiplied by 5 from December 6 to 8, and then 4 more times from December 8 to 11.

In total, the university’s Ithaca campus reported 227 positive tests among students and staff on Saturday, more than the previous five days combined. He then released another 214 positive tests on Sunday.

Pollack’s letter listed a number of changes as a result of the increased alert status:

  • All university activities involving undergraduates (including events and social gatherings) and all university sponsored events (including winter celebrations) are canceled.
  • The December 18 recognition ceremony for December graduates has been canceled.
  • Students using Cornell Dining are strongly encouraged to ‘grab and go’; if you need to eat nearby, please do it remotely.
  • Libraries are closed to students.
  • Sunday track and field competitions are canceled. Fitness centers and gymnasiums are closed to students.
  • Offices and labs remain open, but undergraduates are not to participate in any study work or lab work.

The CDC said on Tuesday that the omicron variant of COVID-19 is increasing in prevalence in New York and New Jersey to about 4 times the rate in the rest of the country.

What this ultimately means is still unclear, however. A study in South Africa published Tuesday morning suggested that at least some vaccines were much less effective at preventing omicron infection – but hospitalizations are also much lower than with the delta variant, suggesting it omicron may cause milder disease.

Pollack acknowledged this early evidence in his letter, but said caution was still warranted.

“(The) point is that higher transmissibility leads to exponential growth, which outweighs the linear percentage decrease in severe cases. To avoid this type of situation, it is imperative not to allow such infections to take place. without control, but to take measures that limit transmission, “she wrote.

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