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During late spring and early summer, as Cornell administrators pondered whether and how the university should reopen for a residential fall semester, the logistics were daunting and disheartening.

"It was pretty clear that the conditions were likely to be very similar in the fall – that is, the virus would still be present, we would have a population that was susceptible to infection by the virus, and absent putting in place clear mitigation risks, we would be in trouble," said Provost Michael Kotlikoff, speaking as part of the Nov. 9 eCornell panel, "Cornell's COVID Response: Data Science in Action." "It was unlikely that we would have what I would [call] a perfect option."

Note: this article was released 11/11.  On 11/12 Cornell announced six new cases, and anticipated more (click here for related story).
With less than three weeks remaining before students return home to complete the semester online, Cornell has exceeded its own projections in keeping campus and the surrounding community as safe as possible.

Cornell has seen fewer than 200 on-campus coronavirus infections to date – one-sixth of the 1,200 projected in the university's initial model. The low rates were achieved through the tireless work of students, university leaders and experts across fields, in cooperation with the Tompkins County Health Department and Cayuga Health System, who devised, deployed and continuously reassessed strategies to effectively fight a formidable and unpredictable virus.

"The semester is going much better than we modeled, and much better than I hoped for," said Peter Frazier, associate professor in the School of Operations Research and Information Engineering in the College of Engineering, whose team developed the models Cornell used in building its testing strategy.

Frequent, rapid testing – twice weekly for undergraduates – is the cornerstone of Cornell's plan, and would not have been possible without the rapidly built Cornell COVID-19 Testing Lab (CCTL), hosted by the College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM). CCTL can process up to 7,000 samples per day using pooled testing, in which five samples are pooled and analyzed together, said Dr. Diego Diel, CCTL director and associate professor in CVM's Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences.

"We recognized at the very start that we were entering uncharted waters," said Dr. Gary Koretzky, vice provost for academic integration and professor in the Department of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. "The things that really have distinguished Cornell's response have been this recognition that asymptomatic individuals can transmit the disease, and you have to test robustly. But it's also that you have to constantly learn. And so what we do is that we examine every single infection on campus, we look at it, and we try to determine what we might learn from it."

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