Quarantine & Isolation FAQs

End-of-semester travel

Refer to our Tips for End-of-Semester Travel for information about when it is and isn't appropriate to travel if you are in isolation or quarantine.

Quarantine information for Spring 2021 arrivals

Please refer to Cornell's arrival testing and quarantine information on covid.cornell.edu.


FAQ for students in quarantine / isolation housing

Clinical staff members at Cornell Health are working hard to provide COVID testing and related support for students. Below are the most frequently asked questions our staff are answering for students and their family members.

  • What is the difference between quarantine and isolation?
    Quarantine is for individuals without symptoms of COVID-19. Its purpose is to keep individuals away from others while they self-monitor for the development of symptoms during COVID-19’s incubation period (14 days), and/or while they await test results. Isolation is used to separate people with COVID-19 from people who are not infected. Its purpose is to contain the spread of the virus while the individual recovers from their illness. 
  • Why do students need to stay in quarantine/isolation housing for the whole 14 days even if they have a negative COVID test result?
    It can take up to 14 days after exposure to the virus for a person to develop COVID-19 symptoms. A negative result before end of the 14-day quarantine period does not rule out possible infection. By remaining in quarantine for 14 days, you remain out of circulation in the population during the incubation period of the virus, which lowers and hopefully eliminates the chance of exposing others to COVID-19 during the period of infectivity. For more information, please read this article about the "Science Behind a 14-day Quarantine."
  • When is my quarantine or isolation period over?
    The length of your quarantine or isolation period is determined by the Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD), and is unique to your situation. The typical length of time is 14 days, but other factors may be taken into account such as length of time after symptom onset and resolution, as well as exposure. If you are unsure of the date given to you by the TCHD, call them at 607-274-6600.
  • Why are we sending Cornell students to specific locations (e.g., hotels, specific residence halls) for isolation/quarantine? Why can’t they stay where they are?
    Cornell is committed to providing a safe place for students who may have been exposed to COVID-19 or who have a positive test result to be safely out of circulation. The majority of student housing in university residence halls does not meet the public health criteria necessary to ensure reduction of viral transmission of COVID-19 (e.g. private bathrooms, sleeping areas, and access to food delivery or private kitchen). Several locations have been set up by the university to ensure the safety of those who need monitoring due to infection with COVID-19 or those who require mandatory quarantine and to ensure safety of the community by removing those individuals from circulation. Having students in these centralized locations also helps clinical staff to provide efficient support to meet students’ basic needs while in quarantine/isolation, being able to provide medication, testing and easy access to clinical services. 
  • Why are those in quarantine/isolation not allowed to go for walks or be outside their rooms? 
    We ask students to remain in their rooms/private spaces throughout the length of quarantine/isolation so that they do not inadvertently pass the virus on to other people. Even if you feel healthy/free of symptoms, you may still be (unknowingly) shedding virus during the time you are in quarantine/isolation.
  • Why can't students use public transportation to get to quarantine/isolation?
    Individuals who are sick or have recently had a close contact to a person with COVID-19 are prohibited from using transportation options that may put them in close contact with others (e.g., public transit, ride-share, or taxis) and should stay in their spaces. Exceptions may be made after consultation with a healthcare provider at Cornell Health to obtain urgent medical care, but only under specific and rare circumstances, as this is not generally recommended by medical or public health guidance.
  • Can I leave Ithaca to quarantine?
    We recommend you stay in Ithaca and follow the guidance of TCHD. If you choose to leave you will be required to inform the TCHD and follow university guidelines when returning to campus. 
  • I’m in quarantine and want to be tested for COVID-19. When/how does that happen?
    Based on the timing of your exposure, a nurse will come to your room when it is time for your testing. The timing of testing may change if you were to develop symptoms of illness. 
  • Should students in quarantine/isolation participate in COVID-19 surveillance testing?
    No, students in quarantine/isolation are exempt from participating in the university's mandatory COVID-19 surveillance testing for the duration of their quarantine/isolation (however, please note that some students may be directed by a health care provider to receive diagnostic testing at Cornell Health). Students in quarantine/isolation should not receive reminders in their Daily Check to schedule a surveillance test. If you are in quarantine/isolation and have received a Daily Check reminder to schedule your surveillance test, please email us at cornellhealth@cornell.edu.
  • What should I do if I’m feeling worse while in quarantine/isolation housing?
    Call Cornell Health 24/7 at 607-255-5155 if you are worried about new or worsening symptoms.  If your symptoms are mild, report them when you receive a check-in call or survey from Cornell Health.
  • How do my professors know that I am in quarantine/isolation and can’t go to classes?
    If you would like a 14-day accommodation letter sent to your instructor(s), please contact Student Disability Services
  • I need pharmacy items (like prescription or over-the-counter medications). How do I get these?
    The Cornell Health pharmacy will deliver necessary medications and pharmacy supplies to your location. Call the pharmacy at 607-255-6976, or log in to myCornellHealth to send them a message with your request. 
  • I need something from my residence hall/apartment. Can a friend bring it over?
    Yes. Items can be dropped-off at the hotel’s front desk.
  • How can I get food delivered, or request different food?
    Please speak with hotel staff about food questions or concerns. You can order take-out food delivery or grocery delivery to the hotel.
  • Can I talk to someone about my anxiety, or other mental health concern?
  • How do I check out of quarantine / isolation housing?
    Once our medical team and the Tompkins County Health Department have cleared you for release, you will be notified of check-out procedures by the hotel front desk. You should not leave the hotel until you have received this information.
  • When do I resume surveillance testing after I recover from COVID-19?
    If you were in isolation due to a positive COVID-19 test, you are exempt from surveillance testing for 90 days after your release from isolation.

More information