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Cornell University moves online before finals as COVID surges on campus

The university in upstate New York reported more than 900 new COVID-19 cases in the past week.

ITHACA, N.Y. — Cornell University has moved final exams online and sent the campus into high alert a day after finding suspected cases of the new omicron variant amid a spike in COVID-19 cases among students, the university announced Tuesday.

The university in upstate New York said 272 students tested positive for the virus on the 24,000-student campus on Monday alone.

Its COVID-19 dashboard reported 903 new student cases over the past week, more than 700 of them detected since Saturday during a post-Thanksgiving spike among vaccinated students.

Cornell’s testing identified a substantial number of samples that contained indicators of the omicron variant, officials said. The university is awaiting confirmation from a lab.

“Cornell’s extensive surveillance testing (Monday) uncovered the likely early and rapid spread of the omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 among our student population,” Joel Malina, vice president for university relations, said in a statement. “While preliminary, initial screening results indicate that the variant now accounts for a very high percentage of our positive COVID-19 cases.”

Much is still unknown about the omicron variant, which so far has been detected in relatively small numbers in New York. In the United States and many other nations, the delta variant is currently responsible for most COVID-19 cases.

New York had recorded 38 confirmed cases of the omicron variant as of Tuesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul said. Of them, 23 were in New York City, four were in Suffolk County and the others were scattered between Westchester, Broome, Nassau, Oneida and Onondaga counties. Cornell is located in Tompkins County.

With only days remaining in the semester, Cornell President Martha Pollack moved the campus to high-alert status in an attempt to limit spread. Libraries and fitness centers were closed, sports were canceled and students were encouraged to remain in Ithaca until receiving a negative COVID-19 test.

The campus is scheduled to close for winter break at the end of the week.

“It is obviously extremely dispiriting to have to take these steps,” Pollack said. “However, since the start of the pandemic, our commitment has been to follow the science and do all we can to protect the health of our faculty, staff, and students.”

Cornell has required regular surveillance testing for unvaccinated students since the start of the academic year, and weekly testing for vaccinated students.

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