Despite imposing nearly every restriction imaginable upon its students, Cornell University experienced a huge COVID-19 outbreak in the last week of its semester.
Before the school year began, Cornell mandated that everyone on campus—regardless of vaccination status—participate in surveillance testing and wear masks indoors. Unvaccinated Cornell students have also been required to maintain six-foot social distancing and mask while outside when distancing is not possible.
On April 2, the university additionally implemented a vaccine mandate for all students, faculty, and staff as a prerequisite for returning to campus. As a result of this policy, Cornell has achieved a 97% on-campus vaccination rate.
Despite these stringent COVID-19 protocols, Cornell experienced an explosion of cases just before its most recent finals week: between December 7 and 13, the university reported 903 COVID-19 cases among students, which were largely breakthrough cases of the Omicron variant. This prompted the university to move all finals online, cancel all university activities and athletic events, and close campus facilities, such as libraries, during finals week.
Though it went into lockdown in response to this outbreak, Cornell’s president, Malina Pollack, admitted that “we have not seen severe illness in any of our infected students.”
Omicron is already understood to be much less lethal than other strains of COVID-19. And according to the CDC, in the week ending November 20, exactly thirty Americans aged 18-24 died of COVID-19, an age cohort essentially all undergraduate students fall into. Note that many of these individuals likely had serious underlying conditions. For reference, there are over 30.6 million Americans between the ages of 18-24. This means that, at the moment, it is literally a one-in-a-million chance that you will die of COVID-19 in any particular week if you fall into this age cohort. It remains unclear whether Cornell and other schools will reevaluate their COVID-19 policies in light of this reality.
Smaller American universities’ general response to COVID-19 has been fairly standardized. The University of Chicago, for example, has implemented many of the same measures that Cornell took prior to its eruption of cases. Taking this into account, it is almost inevitable that UChicago will be vulnerable to a similar COVID-19 outbreak upon returning to campus. This likelihood may be exacerbated by our neighborhood’s relatively high population density: Hyde Park has 18,000 residents per square mile, whereas Ithaca only has about 6,000 per square mile in its densest areas.
Cornell’s immense restrictions on daily life proved ineffective at preventing a huge COVID-19 outbreak on its campus. From this point forward, essentially every human on planet Earth will contract COVID-19 at some point in their lives. More life-draining measures, overreaching restrictions, and totalitarian mandates will not stop that from happening. Accordingly, there is no epidemiological basis for continuing such draconian COVID-19 mitigation regimes—they are mere political theater with no limiting principle. Will UChicago “follow the science”? Or will the administration’s delusional obsession with attempting to ward off the inevitable condemn current and future community members to a never-ending string of suffocating restraints that prevent us from truly living our lives?
*The views expressed in this article solely represent the views of the author, not the views of the Chicago Thinker.
b r u h they DID work here. Seriously dude, have you been living under a rock for the past year? The biggest outbreak on campus at UChicago was, like, 50 people from an unauthorized event, and only a few hundred students have gotten infected over the course of the entire pandemic. Oh wait, you’re a first year, so clearly anything that happened before you got here doesn’t matter to you.
Comparing Delta and Omicron is like comparing apples to oranges. Omicron is much more contagious than previous variants, rendering the pre-Omicron coronavirus-control mechanisms less than useless. But on the bright side, Omicron is much milder, meaning that such restrictions are unnecessary.
I’m gonna respond as a normal person: Just because omicron is milder doesn’t mean it’s harmless, and just because it’s more contagious doesn’t mean that previous ways of dealing with it are now “less than useless.” I definitely sympathize with not wanting to go back to remote classes, and I understand the urge to say that we might as well let people get omicron since it’s not that bad anyway. But I still don’t think it’s wise to just ignore it and let it run rampant. You’re right that probably no one is going to die from it, but I’m more concerned about the long-term effects of covid. Something like 10% of young people end up with long covid, and while fatigue, brain fog, loss of smell, etc. aren’t, like, fatal, they’re still pretty devastating and can really screw up someone’s life and well-being. I would argue that ensuring the health/safety of students is just as important as educating, and these actions are meant to balance the two as best as possible.
Also, going back to the original article, I understand that the point of this article is to say that covid measures didn’t work at Cornell and therefore probably won’t work here, but we don’t actually know that they didn’t work at Cornell; it’s just as likely, if not more, that if Cornell had simply ignored covid and let students do whatever, they would have ended up dealing with a much larger outbreak.
Now I understand it – in the age of timeless electronic memory, one must never be cited in a past social media posting as opposing the fascist narrative. It’s something like, for just one example, the digging and research that was used against Jon Grudden to destroy his coaching career. Nothing much else can explain the rampant ignorance and enforced stupidity that permeates US universities. ‘Recite the dogma or we will break you’ resonates throughout the ivy covered walls. They have become institutions but not of higher learning. Who could have imagined in years past that students (inmates) would obediently submit to such fascist restrictions on learning based on a flu virus that is relatively harmless, who must also submit to becoming big pharma vaccinated guinea pigs (whatever happened to ‘my body, my choice), grovel before their ideological masters for acceptance and grades while mortgaging their future to humongous debt in order to keep the academic mandarins living in style.
I’m sorry, but this image being pushed by certain people and publications (like the Thinker) of UChicago students, and students at elite universities in general, of being young, sheltered, and naïve is just false. In reality, people here have an incredible, diverse range of views and are more than willing to engage with others in good faith, provided that they do the same. The reason the Thinker gets so much ridicule from students is not because of disagreement, but because so many Thinker articles provide a warped or misleading presentation of the facts while also putting down or practically insulting other UChicago students, essentially punching down while refusing to engage honestly.
If you won’t take my word for it, I recommend this essay (originally self-published on Medium, republished here: https://przekroj.pl/en/society/my-semester-with-the-snowflakes-james-hatch). It’s by a former Navy SEAL who talks about his experiences at Yale.