Updated Oct. 22, 2021

Campus Health Guidance  for the 2021-2022 Academic Year at Cornell College

Masking protocols effective Oct. 22 at 3 p.m.

  1. Masks are required in instructional spaces (e.g., classrooms, laboratories, rehearsal spaces, and studios) in: Russell Science, West, South, McLennan, Norton, Law, Armstrong/Kimmel, McWethy, Thomas Commons, Merner, and Pfeiffer.
    1. However, faculty members may choose to make masks optional in their own instructional spaces.
    2. Students with documented health issues who are in classrooms and instructional spaces where masks are not required can request a policy modification by contacting Student Health Services.
  2. Masks are required in Cole Library.
  3. An employee can require others to wear masks when in the office of that employee. An employee providing services (e.g, IT, Facilities Services, athletic trainer) can require the individuals receiving service be masked.
  4. An employee or student running a meeting or event can require all in-person participants to wear a mask.
  5. Requirements from the NCAA and Midwest Conference will continue to be followed.

Signage resources

If you wish to make your masking preferences clear, you can print one of these signs on a campus printer near you or copies are available at the Mail and Service Center.

Face coverings required sign
Face coverings optional sign

Following the recommendation of the Safe Repopulation Task Force and approval of the COVID Core Group, the following information lays out campus operations for the 2021-22 academic year, beginning August 9th. The Safe Repopulation Task Force will continue to review campus safety data, COVID-19 trends, variants, transmission rates, and public health recommendations. Campus education and notifications will be shared as needed to maintain campus health and safety and ensure a smooth transition to near-normal campus operations, or transition to more stringent campus safety measures if conditions warrant.

In this information, vaccinated will be used to refer to individuals who have completed a vaccination series. Natural immunity refers to those who have had a documented positive COVID test in the immediately preceding 10 months (time period subject to revision in light of new research), or documented positive antibody test. Immune will refer to those individuals who have been vaccinated or documented natural immunity. Non-immune will refer to individuals who are neither vaccinated nor have a documented case of COVID in the immediately preceding 10 months.

The overarching principle: The campus will return to near normal operations for the 2021-22 academic year unless otherwise noted in this document. As outlined in our Guiding Principles, Cornell College reserves the right to adopt more stringent guidelines should conditions merit. 

Reasoning: Beginning August 9th, Cornell will begin reporting an immunity percentage and vaccination percentage. These values will be updated and posted on the dashboard. We were pleased to have a starting point on 7/29/2021 of an overall immune percentage of 80.3% for returning students, and 83.5% for employees. This percentage included both vaccinated persons and those who have obtained natural immunity. It is clear that vaccination and/or disease does not impart 100% immunity in all persons. However, the CDC reports the vaccines are highly effective and provide protection against serious illness and hospitalization, including the now-common Delta variant. In addition, numerous studies [Center for Disease Research and Policy, Nature, National Institute of Health, Curative COVID-19 Testing and Health Services, and Cleveland Clinic] recognize that natural immunity can be long-lasting and contributes to a population’s overall immunity rate.

In fact, our own experience on campus confirms that natural immunity is long-lasting following COVID. Of the people who tested positive on campus in the last 10 months, almost all of them had repeat testing after their 90-day waiting period. Many of them were tested more than once post-diagnosis, with the student-athletes testing as much as 3 times/week. Of the more than 10,000 tests conducted on campus last year, only 2 people were found to be reinfected following their initial COVID diagnosis and recovery.  We have 48 returning students and 6 employees who had documented COVID within the last 10 months (that we know of, there are likely more) who have not been vaccinated, but most certainly have natural immunity. We will count these known 54 people and those who test positive during the academic year in our immunity percentage. Including individuals with natural immunity poses no additional risk to the campus in light of the scientific evidence and the small number of individuals with documented natural immunity.

In addition, as of 7/29/21, the Cornell campus has reached a vaccination rate of 73% among returning students, with 83% of employees having been vaccinated. First-year students are sending in their vaccine cards regularly, and we will not have an accurate picture of vaccination rates among that cohort until much later in August. As of 7/29/21 we have vaccine cards from 236 of approximately 415 entering students, with more cards coming in daily. Beginning Block 2, after the free COVID-19 vaccination clinics and census day, and at which time all health forms should be submitted, a comprehensive campus immunity rate will be reported in place of subgroup (faculty/staff, returning students, in coming students) rates.

By all standards, this level of immunity offers our campus significant protection against a large COVID outbreak or severe illness. Therefore, it is time to shift our focus to returning to near-normal operations. We are now moving from a model of campus enforcement of policies designed to protect the whole, to a policy of personal responsibility and education that will help us safely and responsibly enjoy a return to in person learning and activities and foster campus unity.

CDC Update (7/27/2021): Infections in fully vaccinated people (breakthrough infections) happen in only a small proportion (less than 0.06%) of people who are fully vaccinated, even with the Delta variant. Moreover, when these infections occur among vaccinated people, they tend to be mild. This is true for all vaccines, for example 3% of measles, 10% of smallpox, and 40% of influenza vaccinated people have breakthrough infections. However, preliminary evidence suggests that fully vaccinated people who do become infected with the Delta variant can be infectious and can spread the virus to others. Evidence is indicating that while they do have an increased viral load, they are infectious for shorter periods of time. The change in CDC guidance of July 27th is primarily aimed at areas of the country with low vaccination rates and high rates of Delta variant transmission. We will continue to monitor the CDC level of transmission for Linn and Johnson counties. However, our campus vaccination rate is substantially higher and our positivity rate is significantly lower than that of both Linn and Johnson counties

Institutes of Higher Learning remain under this CDC advice: "Particularly in areas of substantial to high transmission, IHEs in collaboration with their local or state health department may consider maintaining or implementing additional prevention strategies including physical distancing and mask use indoors by all students, faculty, staff, and other people such as visitors, including those who are fully vaccinated." We will continue our additional prevention strategies of encouraging masks indoors, hand sanitizer stations, filter fans, HVAC improvements, and increased outdoor events.

Campus Guidance for Health and Wellbeing

Masks: Masks play an important role in infection control of all airborne illnesses, not just COVID, and as such should be considered as a useful tool in maintaining campus health. Everyone should feel comfortable wearing a mask whenever desired, and in light of new CDC guidance, masks are encouraged when indoors. However, masks are not generally required campus-wide, though some situations may require us to do so such as the masking requirement we are currently under through October 17. We continually monitor both our internal and external triggers. Masking requirements, like all mitigation measures, may be updated as needed. Should masking be required for events or a defined period of time, changes will be communicated to the campus community.

When a requirement is not in place, it is a personal decision to wear a mask out of concern for personal protection or safety, as well as out of concern for the health of another. Following CDC guidelines, for their own protection those individuals not yet vaccinated are encouraged to wear masks in situations where 6’ of physical distance cannot be maintained.

Masks may be required in a classroom, work or other close contact setting at the discretion of the instructor, supervisor, coach, or individual in charge. Mask requirements will be clearly communicated in those situations. All members of the Cornell Community will respect requests to mask as required or when asked to do so. Failure to comply will be handled through the student conduct system.

Hand sanitizers: Like masks, clean hands also aid in infection control for all illnesses. Therefore, hand sanitizers will remain in place at all entrances, and everyone is encouraged to wash hands and/or use hand sanitizer regularly. 

Facilities and Custodial: Facilities will continue to maximize external air exchange rates throughout campus.  Custodial services will return to normal schedules with recommended cleaning and disinfecting products.  Custodial services will also be ready to ramp up disinfection procedures should the need arise.

Classroom management: Cornell College will not regularly offer courses to remote learners this year. Syllabi should include a policy for missed classes due to illness, but this plan must not include requiring a note from the Health Center. Instead, encourage ill students to contact the Health Center for further evaluation and possible testing. Instructors may choose to require masks during instructional time, regardless of the immunity status of the members of the class. Health Services will work with faculty to provide class immunity percentages.

The Health Center cannot give vaccine information on students or employees, nor can they release COVID-19 test results without the patient’s consent. If a student tests positive, the student is to contact the instructor/coach/supervisor and inform them directly. Since distancing is no longer required, contact tracing will require that all non-immune individuals in the class will be required to quarantine and test should someone in the classroom test positive. Ways to manage contact tracing would be: a) maintain social distancing b) assign seating c) take a daily photo of the classroom to document seating proximity. 

COVID-19 Specific Guidance

Vaccines: Legislation in Iowa prevents Cornell College from requiring COVID vaccines. However, we continue to encourage those who want to be vaccinated to do so. A vaccine clinic (with the Pfizer vaccine) will be held on campus on Aug. 27th, with a follow up clinic on Sept. 17th. A $1,000 cash  incentive will be offered again in September for students who submit their vaccine cards to the Health Center at student_health@cornellcollege.edu, in addition to one $2,000 and four $500 incentives, which concluded on July 15, 2021. Employees should indicate their vaccination status via the Immunity Tracker for Employees. Vaccine information is protected information, and personal vaccination status cannot be shared beyond the entities to which it is submitted. Aggregate Vaccination numbers are used to update our overall vaccination status. The Health Center will use vaccine status to aid in determining the need for quarantine in case of exposure. Vaccine status will not be used to determine admittance to a class or a venue with the exception of off-campus study participants. 

Positive COVID Test or Antibody Results: Similar to vaccination documentation, students and employees are asked to submit any positive COVID test results or positive antibody tests they have received.  Students should submit these to the Health Center at student_health@cornellcollege.edu and employees should indicate positive status via the Immunity Tracker for Employees.

Testing: Testing is being done for any symptomatic individuals who request it, and all close contacts (whether immune or not) of an individual diagnosed with COVID-19. If you are experiencing symptoms, please quarantine in your room and use the symptom checker (the link can also be found on your student portal) to report your symptoms and connect with the Student Health Office for further instruction.

Surveillance testing for COVID-19 has been performed for athletic teams who will be required to follow NCAA and Midwest Conference guidelines for unvaccinated student athletes. We will be testing all off-campus trip participants who will be traveling in close quarters that will require an overnight stay. Consistent with the flexibility of our protocols the Safe Repopulation Task Force is evaluating this policy weekly. Symptomatic testing is free for employees and students and will be available at the Health Center. 

Positive tests, isolation, quarantine, and contact tracing: Anyone with COVID symptoms and those who are non-immune close contacts should stay home and contact the Student Health Center to be tested. Those who test positive will be required to isolate for 10 days. Students who need to isolate or quarantine will need to work with their instructor regarding the possibility of continuing their class. A Withdrawal for Health Reasons may be required. Like any student, students who withdraw from a course for health reasons may take another course during Block 9 or 10 for an additional tuition cost. 

Following a positive COVID test, contact tracing will ensue. Non-immune close contacts will be required to quarantine for 14 days, or 10 days with a negative test on Day 10. Non-immune close contacts need to be tested, preferably on Day 3 and Day 10 from contact, sooner if symptoms develop.  Vaccinated individuals or those with natural immunity are exempt from quarantine if identified as a close contact, unless they become symptomatic. Immune individuals will be tested at day 3, and also if they become symptomatic.

Athletics: Cornell College and the Midwest Conference will be following the Resocialization of College Sport Fall Guidance.

Off-campus study: Off-campus study participants will be expected to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 prior to departure. Masks are recommended. As we know breakthrough infection can happen to vaccinated persons, trip organizers should make plans for the return home or isolation of anyone who becomes ill or tests positive during the trip. Students travelling internationally need to be aware of travel restrictions and requirements, which vary widely from country to country and can change at a moment's notice. Specific protocols will be addressed by the Office of International and Off-Campus Study during pre-departure meetings and other communications.

Return to Near Normal Operations

Gatherings: Gathering size will no longer be restricted, and capacity limits on rooms will be lifted. It is recommended to have good ventilation in any location where people are gathering, and masks are encouraged for large events for anyone who desires to wear one. 

Residence halls: Pre-COVID Residence hall guest policy will be reinstated beginning August 18th.  Students should be aware that there are no extra rooms on campus this fall, so working with Residence Life Staff to mediate roommate issues is highly encouraged. Vaccination status is not considered when pairing roommates. Students will quarantine in their room if they are named a close contact and do not have immune status. Roommates will need to discuss how to handle this situation, should it arise.

Dining: Dining services will return to normal operations without seating restrictions or mealtime cohorts. The Hilltop Cafe and Zamora’s Market will be open to the public. Masks are encouraged when diners are not eating or drinking. 

Return to socialization and activities: Now is the time to reconnect with friends and colleagues. This may include in-person gatherings, re-establishing open door policies, returning to in-person dining, participating in campus activities and a general return to typical socialization. However, masks should always be acceptable for those who choose to wear one. It is also important to remember that persons with underlying medical conditions that prevent immunization are still at risk, and a request to mask in their presence (when within 6 feet for 15 minutes or longer) should always be met with gracious compliance. 

Mental Health: After such a long period of isolation and social disruption, it is expected that individuals on campus would benefit from mental health support. This could be achieved in a variety of ways.  Please review available options for student mental health resources and faculty and staff mental health resources.

The campus environment: While we plan to have a near-normal experience on campus, it is important to remember that the pandemic is not over, and people will have varying degrees of comfort returning to normal life. Mask-wearing should be accepted in all situations without question. It will serve our community well to remember that the pandemic caused great pain and loss for many, and that most of the world is still suffering without sufficient vaccine supplies. Our privileged immune status should not be taken for granted, and we must be sensitive to those in our midst who experienced loss of life or health, as well as our students from still-vulnerable areas.