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Lacrosse player and chemistry professor help shape safety guidelines at Cornell College

Published: Sep. 24, 2020 at 6:55 PM CDT
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MOUNT VERNON, Iowa (KCRG) - Colleges and universities across the country have set up safety guidelines for athletes and how teams are able to practice.

When you walk around the Roe Howard Fitness Center at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, there are signs indicating the maximum occupancy, whether it’s in an office, classroom or the gymnasium. These aren’t just random numbers. They’re based off the research of chemistry professor Cindy Strong and one of her students, Sydney Swift, who’s also on the women’s lacrosse team.

“We’re just taking the little steps that we can do to keep people safe,” Swift said.

Strong and Swift started their research this summer after being contacted by Tahlee Baynard, who graduated from Cornell in 1997. He told them about a model that was being used by the University of Colorado in Boulder, which looked at the aerosol transmission of COVID-19.

“The model allows you to look at how the virus builds up in a room over a period of time,” said Strong. “And then using that information, you can estimate the risk of a person in that room actually contracting the virus if they stay there for an hour or two hours.”

“It was assuming that we were cleaning surfaces, wearing masks and staying six feet apart,” Swift said. “We’re able to look at levels of physical activity and the breathing rates of everybody and then just seeing how that puts more aerosol transmission into the air.”

Some of the variables used in the model included the room occupancy and the dimensions of each room.

“Outside, we have a little bit more freedom and that was something they shared with us right away,” said Cornell athletic director and baseball head coach Seth Wing. “But then when we were to go inside, so for example, in our fieldhouse, just using the size of that space and knowing how many student-athletes we could get in there in a safe way to allow minimal transmission of the virus through air. That goes for our weight room, our classrooms inside for team meetings, the fieldhouse, the gym."

So far, the protocols have been working. For Swift, it gives her a warm feeling knowing her research is helping everyone stay safe.

“It’s a very cool experience to be able to see your research being applied firsthand,” she said.

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