Cornell College hopes smaller campus makes Covid-19 control easier

Students walk on the campus of Cornell College while wearing masks for the first day of the...
Students walk on the campus of Cornell College while wearing masks for the first day of the fall semester on Monday, September 7th, 2020.(Aaron Hosman)
Published: Sep. 7, 2020 at 6:25 PM CDT
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Cornell College in Mount Vernon started the first day of classes for the fall semester Monday. As other college towns like Iowa City and Ames see a rise in Covid-19 cases as students return, administrators at Cornell said with a smaller campus, it’s at an advantage to keep Covid in check.

Cornell College President Jonathan Brand said he learned a lot seeing other Iowa college campuses welcome students back, like what to do when or if a Covid outbreak happens on his campus.

“If you asked me this two or three months ago, the prevailing wisdom would have been to send students home and now the national guidance at this point, is keep them on campus and keep them on campus a bit more,” Brand said.

Which is why Brand said Cornell is at an advantage when it comes to keeping the virus at bay. Just over one thousand students attend Cornell, most of them already living on campus.

“We aren’t telling our students that they can’t leave campus, it’s an honor system, it’s a shared responsibility,” he said.

Like other colleges, masks are mandated on campus and Cornell is testing students and faculty for the virus, using rapid antigen tests. Brand said they are testing around 200 to 300 students per block of the semester, 18 days.

“We think that number each block, each month, allows us to assess the transmission rate on campus and keep that number under one, which means it’s not spreading,” Brand said.

Jalynn Webb started her senior year at Cornell this fall.

“Having that change is a little bit difficult, but that’s one of the things we accepted as part of being on campus,” Webb said.

She said there is a common sentiment among her peers to keep everyone safe.

“For the most part, everyone on campus is saying, I don’t want to be sent home, do not mess this up for us, so we all have to hold each other liable in that sense,” she said.

Web lives in a dorm with three other students. She sayid that initially made her nervous.

“But we made the decision among ourselves to get tested and then feel safe enough to take the mask down around each other and we made the promise to hold it to each other to not take it off around anyone else,” she said.

While Brand said their method of testing can help minimize the spread of Covid, it’s up to the students how the remainder of the semester pans out.

“The part that is really going to make this work is our students are so dead set on committed to following our protocols they are holding all of us accountable,” Brand said.

Wednesday marked five days since students returned to on-campus housing. By the start of the new semester, Brand says no student had tested positive.

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