Is the new Spring 2021 travel policy applicable to graduate students who live off campus in Ithaca permanently?

Date: February 2021

Question

Hi Deans,

I have a question regarding the new Spring 2021 Travel policy. The new policy for Spring 2021 says that personal travel requests made through the Daily Check tool this semester will only be approved for “Commuting for graduate or professional students, Death of an immediate family member, Medically required care for you or a family member, Required academic or career-related travel”. This is a departure from last semester, where personal travel was approved for any reason provided the traveler followed all state and local guidelines regarding quarantine and testing.

Is this policy applicable to graduate students who live off campus in Ithaca permanently? I understand why travel is dangerous for undergraduates, particularly those living in residence halls. However, as a graduate student living alone in my own personal residence off-campus, it seems like I should be able to make my own decisions regarding travel provided I follow all guidelines regarding testing and quarantine upon my return. I only come to campus to work in a research lab, and if I were to travel I would comply with the requirement to quarantine in my permanent residence and not come to campus until obtaining 2 negative tests upon my return. I would also only engage in what I feel is low-risk travel, ie. traveling to engage in outdoor activities with family members who have been tested/vaccinated in a socially distanced manner. Would this type of travel be permitted under the new guidelines? What are the consequences of violation of this new policy if I were not approved by chose to travel anyway?

Thank you,

Outdoor Enthusiast

Response

Dear Outdoor Enthusiast,

I am, quite literally, dreaming of travel so I can empathize with this question!  Even having distant travel plans would give me something to look forward to but it’s still so hard to predict when discretionary travel might feel safe so I’m holding off on buying any tickets for now.  The University’s travel policy is outside the purview of the Graduate School so I turned to my colleagues who support the Daily Check helpdesk for clarification.

They confirm that you are correct.  The University’s spring travel policies limit travel outside the local region to all but emergency and essential travel.  For fall 2020, personal travel was strongly discouraged for students who live off campus and prohibited for students living on campus, except for emergencies. The tighter spring policy reflects the sharp rise in COVID infections in nearly every state and region between Aug 2020 and January 2021.  This is in line with CDC guidance that “Travel can increase your chance of spreading and getting COVID-19. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.”

The University policy is designed to protect the local and campus communities.  Certainly all students who are in the Ithaca area need to comply with New York State travel requirements for testing and quarantine based on the travel destination and duration.  Cornell’s travel policies expand on those requirements.  Students who travel for personal reasons without approval may not be permitted to return to campus.  They could also be referred to the Cornell Compact Compliance Team (C3T) for violation of the Cornell Student Behavioral Compact.  If you are considering personal travel please submit your request well in advance via the Daily Check website.  You’ll receive additional information about whether your proposed travel is approved or deemed too risky to undertake with a subsequent return to on-campus activities.    

The Graduate School does get involved in supporting requests for essential academic or job-related travel.  Students who need to conduct time-sensitive academic research can submit a petition and we’ll work with them and other offices to assess the risk and make arrangements, as possible. 

There are some reasons to be hopeful that the current nation-wide wave of COVID infections may be slowly declining, and some projections for the spring look increasingly optimistic as vaccination rates increase and the weather improves.  Delaying travel plans for even a few months could allow for greater safety.  The University has committed to reassessing and adjusting COVID policies as the public health situation changes.  The Graduate School will continue to advocate that graduate and professional students, especially those who live off campus, be offered consideration and flexibility for travel that can be conducted safely with appropriate testing and quarantine and testing upon return.

Sincerely,

Jason

Jason Kahabka
Associate Dean for Administration