What is the rationale between the quarantine duration reduction?

Date: January 2021


Dear Deans,

I hope you got a good rest during the break! I was wondering if you could provide some information on the scientific rationale behind reducing the quarantine time to five days (with two negative results) for anyone that traveled over the holidays. I just want to feel safer around my traveler labmates. Thanks!


Paranoid grad student


Dear “Paranoid Graduate Student”,

First off, let me say that it’s not paranoid to ask for more information about how decisions are made when they affect your own health! It’s appropriate for members of the Cornell community to ask such questions and important for Cornell leadership to provide transparency. 

From the very first days of the pandemic, President Pollack and Provost Kotlikoff have committed that university policies will be driven by science and data. Cornell has also committed to following the guidance of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), New York State, and the Tompkins County Health Department. Several high-level committees are guiding Cornell policies. 

To be clear, Cornell has not reduced the quarantine requirement to five days (with two negative results) for everyone. That option is only available to students who follow NYS Travel Advisory guidelines to “test out” of travel-related quarantine when returning to NY state. Full details can be found on Cornell’s Arrival Testing website. The university’s policy largely mirrors NY regulations but imposes an additional test and clarifies the expectation for the second test’s results to be received. 

As context, on November 3rd, 2020, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order related to quarantine requirements for people entering NY state and created a process to “test out” of the then-14-day quarantine (later shortened to 10 days based on guidance from the CDC). The order states that travelers who were in another state for more than 24 hours must obtain a test within three days prior to departure from that state. Then, the traveler must, upon arrival in New York, quarantine for three days. On day four of their quarantine, the traveler must obtain seek another COVID test. If both tests come back negative, the traveler may exit quarantine early upon receipt of the second negative diagnostic test. Cornell’s policy is based on this NY regulation. Here’s an excerpt from Cornell’s Arrival Testing webpage:

[Students] arriving from a noncontiguous state (states other than NY, PA, NJ, CT, VT, or MA) or any international location must:


    • Use the Spring Checklist to record the arrival date. Please coordinate in advance with your roommates, if applicable, to stagger your arrival in the Ithaca area.
    • Give yourself enough time in Ithaca to complete the requirements listed here prior to your need to be on campus. Testing availability the week prior to classes resuming may be limited.
    • Obtain a test within three days prior to arrival in New York state.*


    • Complete the New York state Traveler Health form.
    • Quarantine off campus for a minimum of five days upon arrival in the Ithaca area, only leaving quarantine to access Cornell’s COVID-19 testing program.
    • Plan to take a test on day one or day two after arrival in New York state. This will be scheduled via the Daily Check portal prior to your arrival; instructions will be emailed from the Daily Check 24-hours prior to your arrival.
    • Take a second test on day four after arrival. Instructions will be emailed from the Daily Check on day four.

Students who cannot take a COVID test before returning to New York state are still required to complete a 10-day quarantine if they are arriving from a non-contiguous state or from outside the U.S. Here are a couple of other useful links:

  • The Tompkins County Health Department has an informative summary describing the shift from 14- to 10-day quarantines.
  • The CDC advises that domestic travelers get tested with a viral test one to three days before a trip and be tested with a viral test three to five days after a trip, and reduce non-essential activities for a full seven days after travel. This informed the NYS policy.

These rules, recommendations, and policies are designed to help manage risk but none can eliminate the risks associate with travel. It is therefore incumbent on individual students to take responsibility for their health and the safety of the community by minimizing exposure to others, maintaining appropriate distancing, wearing masks, and taking all reasonable precautions to minimize the spread of infection.  

I hope this information is helpful.



Jason Kahabka
Associate Dean for Administration