COVID-19 cases spike at Cornell University despite 95% vaccination rate
By Cassie B. // Sep 16, 2021

Cornell University’s strict vaccine mandate has done little to control infections at the school, data indicates. Following the first week of classes there, from August 27 to September 2, the school was declared a “yellow zone” after its opening “surveillance testing” revealed a high case load.


The university is using surveillance testing to test healthy people without symptoms for COVID-19 infections so it can quarantine them on the pretense of stopping the virus from spreading, although there is some debate about just how much asymptomatic people can spread the disease in the first place.

As of September 3, the school's quarantine rooms were two thirds full, with 122 of 185 of the rooms being occupied. Students placed in isolation were allowed to keep up with their classes on Zoom and by crowdsourcing class notes and recording lectures.

During the school’s opening week, 95 percent of those who were tested had received both COVID-19 shots. Despite this high rate, they noted five times as many cases this year as they saw during the same period last year, prior to the vaccine rollout – even though more students were tested during the first week of school last year (28,951 versus just over 27,000). The positivity rate overall has doubled, jumping from 0.45 percent in 2020 to 1.19 percent in 2021.

This data appears to suggest that the shots are not stopping the virus from spreading. Indeed, it could be spreading more as people gain a false sense of security from getting the jab and act as though they do not need to take additional precautions.

Cornell’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate is quite strict. Their website says: “The process to receive an exemption [is] rigorous because vaccines are such an essential tool” for stopping the spread of COVID-19, “a disease that, if unchecked, can have serious health consequences on densely populated residential campuses and the corresponding communities.”

Students seeking a medical exemption must provide written proof from a doctor specifying which vaccines they cannot receive and explaining why. Those who requested religious exemptions needed to file by August 16. The process involved providing the school with a written statement outlining their beliefs and explaining why their “religious principles prohibit immunization.” A school committee then reviewed the applications and decided if they met an undefined “necessary threshold” to be granted an exemption.

Strict "progressive enforcement measures" essentially kicking students out of school for non-compliance

Those students who fail to comply with the school’s vaccine mandate are subjected to what the school calls “Progressive Enforcement Measures.” Under these measures, students who do not have an exemption and have not gotten the vaccine are not allowed to participate in classes, not even online. In addition, they will be disenrolled from the school with an effective date of September 26 and banned from re-enrolling until they become compliant with the vaccine mandate. Those who do give in and get the jab and wish to re-enroll will have to pay a $350 charge. According to the university, online participation is an accommodation that is reserved for the disabled and will not be offered to unvaccinated students.

Last week, Cornell announced that it was canceling most of its in-person homecoming events out of concerns about the disease. The homecoming fan festival, laser show and fireworks have all been cut for this year. The university's president, Martha Pollack, has said that if infections reach a point where they do not have the capacity to support isolating everyone or a significant level of transmission is seen in classrooms and other campus settings, they may implement additional restrictions, such as having students quarantine in place, shifting classes online, or possibly shutting the campus down entirely.

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