Cornell University says it is going to welcome students back to campus in September for a combination of in-person and online instruction, a decision made after researchers argue that they believe an online semester at the university would lead to more CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus cases than an in-person semester.
“The key consideration in our decision to reopen is public health,” Cornell President Martha Pollack said in a Tuesday statement announcing the reopening of the Ithaca, New York campus. The Ivy League school has emptied on-campus housing and shifted to online learning since March 28.
Pollack said that the findings of an epidemiological model “showed that residential instruction, when coupled with a robust virus screening program of the form we intend to implement, is a better option for protecting the public health of our community than a purely online semester.”
According to the study by Cornell’s own research team, an in-person semester would cause 3.6 percent of the campus population, or 1,254 people, becoming infected, with 16 people becoming sick enough to be hospitalized. An online classes-only semester, by contrast, would result in about 7,200 COVID-19 cases and about 60 hospitalizations.
Cornell’s plan is that students and faculty will be screened when they arrive on campus, and there will be “ongoing, frequent screening, with isolation/quarantine/contact tracing as needed.” The study argued that a large body of the students would not be screened if the semester were offered online.
Peter Frazier, the leading researcher of the study, said that’s because earlier surveys showed that some 9,000 Cornell students were willing to return to off-campus housing in the college town of Ithaca, even if all classes were moved online. In that case, there would be little Cornell could do to curb the spread of virus among students, since the university couldn’t assert its authority to implement restrictive measures outside the campus.
“There is simply no way to completely eliminate risk, whether we are in-person or online; even under the best-case projections, some people will become infected,” Pollack said. “But, again, our analyses show that the number of people infected and/or hospitalized is likely to be markedly lower if we have an in-person, residential semester with the aforementioned screening mechanisms than if we are purely online.”
With fear of a second wave of the CCP virus outbreak, some universities and colleges have given up their plans to bring students back to campus for the upcoming fall semester. California State University—the largest public university system in the United States—announced in May that all instructions in the fall across its 23 campuses, with very few exceptions, will go virtual.
At the University of California at Los Angeles, administrators have said 80 percent of fall classes would be online. The University of Massachusetts at Boston made a similar announcement, saying that only some lab classes would be held on campus.