After a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases among students, Ithaca College announced that it has changed its COVID-19 alert level to “Orange: Moderate Risk.”
In a Dec. 15 email to the campus community, Samm Swarts, assistant director for Emergency Preparedness and Response, said the college is raising its COVID-19 operational status after cases have continued to rise. The college had previously raised its alert from “Green: Lower Risk” to “Yellow: Low to Moderate Risk” Dec. 8. “Orange: Moderate Risk” means social gatherings are canceled and shared on-campus spaces, like the Athletics and Events Center, are closed. Visitation from people off campus is not allowed, except to pick up students for Winter Break. The college is also urging students to return to their permanent residences as soon as they have finished their final exams and coursework.
The college has 123 active student cases as of Dec. 15 and four active employee cases. The email attributed this tide of new cases to multiple factors, like large social gatherings and the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant, which was detected in multiple cases at Cornell University. Cornell University has also had an increase in cases, with the college shutting down campus and moving to the “Red: High Risk” alert level. Cornell reported 1,135 active student cases in the past week, a surge that has made national headlines.
The email stated that through contact tracing, many of the new cases found were from Santacon, a large annual Christmas party popular among the college’s students. The email reiterated that the college had previously discouraged participation in Santacon. The email encouraged any student who attended Santacon to get a COVID-19 test as soon as possible.
The Tompkins County Health Department’s (TCHD) COVID-19 data table currently says that there are 1,102 active cases in the county. This number is most likely higher, as Cornell’s COVID-19 dashboard lists 1,135 active cases among students in the past week. In a press release, the TCHD announced that 50% of cases are not able to be traced with contact tracing, indicating significant community spread. The TCHD has also been experiencing delays in contact tracing investigation results.
The press release also stated that through Cornell’s virology lab, all Tompkins County tests are able to get sampled for the Omicron variant.
Frank Kruppa, Tompkins County Public Health Director, said in a statement this puts the county at an advantage for rooting out the variant in comparison to other areas.
“We are fortunate that Cornell has this capability to sequence all Tompkins County samples,” Kruppa said. “With this level of spread, we expect Omicron to become the most predominant variant in our community, similar to how the Delta variant spread earlier this year.”
At Ithaca College, COVID-19 tests are available for pick-up and drop-off in the Peggy Ryan Williams Lobby. The Emerson Hall testing site is open seven days a week between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. and is the primary location for students to be tested if they are experiencing symptoms.