Cornell College to welcome students back for Block 1

Cornell College will welcome students to campus as it reopens for the fall 2020 semester with classes beginning Aug. 24 for Block 1.

“We are thrilled to have our students back on campus,” said President Jonathan Brand. “We are taking many precautions and know we’ll need to work collectively as a community and also individually with students, faculty, and staff to maximize safety as this pandemic continues.”

Over the coming weeks, the college will confirm a schedule for a phased move-in of the student body. Faculty are also wrapping up plans related to each course that Cornell offers–some classes will be held fully in-person in modified classrooms with appropriate physical distancing, some classes will have a hybrid format of online and in-person sessions, and some classes will be offered fully online to accommodate both in-person and remote learners. 

Testing will be a major component of the college’s return plan. Cornell will roll out targeted and randomized point-of-care testing (Sofia SARS Antigen tests) on a percentage of students, faculty, and staff each week to continuously monitor the number of asymptomatic people on campus. This nasal swab antigen test allows Cornell Health Center staff to receive real-time, accurate results in just minutes.

“Testing is vital to the control of the virus on campus, especially because we know people can carry this virus without displaying any symptoms,” said Director of Student Health Services Nancy Reasland. “We know COVID-19 will be around for a while, so it’s important for us to include an action plan for ongoing testing that will start even before the academic year gets underway and will continue as long as necessary.”

Students with symptoms will be required to take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test provided by the local public health department if they wish to remain on campus. Those tests will be administered on campus, and students will be quarantined pending results. 

If any tests show a positive result, contact tracing will take place. Faculty and staff who show symptoms have been instructed to stay home and contact their primary care providers.

Cornell leaders have also been preparing for and are ready to accommodate students who may not feel comfortable returning to campus or who may have health issues that don’t allow for their return. 

In addition, adjustments to class meeting and dining schedules will be made, and classroom and dining room furnishings will be arranged to increase physical distancing. Also, the Cornell facilities teams are:

  • Enhancing cleaning in bathrooms, classrooms, and common areas
  • Securing plexiglass barriers in high-traffic, close transaction areas
  • Putting stations with hand sanitizer and cleaning sprays around campus
  • Installing touchless step pulls on most bathroom doors 
  • Placing signage to promote physical distancing and other safety precautions

The entire Cornell community will also be required to wear face-coverings everywhere (except in a residence hall room or outdoors when walking alone), to abide by physical distancing guidelines, and to complete a daily symptom checker before coming onto campus.

Cornell has a data team of faculty and student researchers closely monitoring case numbers in Linn and Johnson Counties, which informs Cornell’s phased plan for returning to campus. The information the team is watching includes the extent of the spread of the virus, the use of area resources such as ICU beds, and the severity of the disease.

“We remain cautiously optimistic and also vigilant. We know that the ever-changing pandemic could require alterations to this plan of action as we approach the school year and even as classes get underway,” Brand said. “Fortunately, the block plan will allow great flexibility to quickly adjust our plan, block-by-block, to keep everyone on track to reach their educational goals.” 

Cornell’s new summer flex blocks will also help students stay on course for graduation despite any COVID-19 interruptions.