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Ebola Information for the Cornell Community

Gannett Health Services
110 Ho Plaza
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-3101

Tel: 607 255-5155
Fax: 607 255-0269

updated 11/20/14

Cornell has been following with concern the continuing development of the “largest and most complex Ebola outbreak in history,” its devastating impact on several countries in West Africa, and recent cases in the U.S. and Europe.

We are taking a proactive approach to educating and anticipating the needs of our diverse community, including international and domestic staff, faculty, students, visitors, and family members.

At Gannett, we provide personal and public health safety information, consultation, and support to members of the Cornell community. We are prepared to provide screening, support, medical care, and preventive measures in collaboration with the Tompkins County Health Department, Cayuga Medical Center, and a coalition of local health care providers, safety experts, and emergency planning/response networks. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or concerns.

What is the risk for the Cornell community?

The risk to Cornell community members continues to be very low, and we're working hard to keep it that way. You can be confident that if anything changes, communication will be prompt and clear.

  • To date, there have been no cases of Ebola at Cornell or in Tompkins County. We continue to monitor isolated cases happening elsewhere (in our state, nation, and the wider world).
  • Cases related to the 2014 Ebola outbreak are rare outside of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone − including most other countries in Africa.
  • While public health officials warn that we can expect more cases in the U.S., they remain confident that the robust health care infrastructures in the U.S. will limit the spread.
  • Since the beginning of the outbreak, there has been very little travel by Cornellians to the affected countries or by visitors from those countries to the Cornell campus. In early August, the university reached out to the small number of individuals who are from or had been traveling in the currently affected region; no one was identified as having been in situations of potential exposure.
  • Travelers to and from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are likely to be among the most aware and concerned about the risks of Ebola. New international travel screening protocols, education of travelers about how to monitor their health and when to seek immediate medical care, and Cornell's new travel restrictions and health consultation requirements provide added measures of protection.

View fact sheet "What Cornell Students Need to Know About Ebola" (pdf)

How does the virus spread?

Ebola is different from the illnesses that are most familiar to us, like colds and influenza:

  • It is not airborne (it doesn't spread through the air).
  • It is not transmitted by people who are asymptomatic (who have the virus but don't yet know it).
  • It does not spread by being in close proximity to or having casual contact with an infected person.
  • The primary risk of catching Ebola comes from the bodily fluids of people who are visibly infected − such as their blood, saliva, vomit, and feces. These can transmit the disease if they make contact with broken skin or mucus membranes (lining of the nose, mouth, and similar areas).

These are the reasons Ebola doesn't spread easily, as influenza can, because we just don't have that kind of contact with many people beyond those we know intimately. Furthermore, the virus is less contagious in the early stages of the illness when people are most likely to circulate in the community. As their symptoms intensify, people with Ebola become more infectious. That's why health care workers and household members providing direct patient care are at greatest risk − and require careful use of full protective gear.

It's significant to note that none of the people who shared a household with the Texas patient and only two of the 70 hospital workers who were involved in his care developed Ebola.

Learn more about Ebola risks, transmission, and symptoms from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What are Cornell – and Gannett Health Services – doing to be prepared?

Cornell University medical, mental health, safety, and senior administrative staff and faculty have been engaged since mid-summer in implementing best practices to protect individual health and the well-being of our community, including:

  • Preparation of Gannett health care providers, Environmental Health and Safety staff, and other Cornell first responders
  • Collaboration with public health officials, Cayuga Medical Center, local colleges and emergency planning/response networks
  • Targeted outreach to potentially affected individuals (there are no social groups or academic departments on campus at increased risk because of where they are from or what they study)
  • Provision of up-to-date information and guidance

Lessons learned from the first several U.S. cases are improving protocols for infection control and treatment procedures. Cornell follows closely information and guidelines of leading medical and public health organizations, and adopts best practices as they are identified and refined. This is well-established practice for Gannett and for the dedicated safety officials, first responders, and building care staff we rely on at Cornell.

What are the current policies for Cornell community members?

Travel restrictions

Given Cornell’s responsibility to protect the health of its community members, university travel restrictions currently apply to the three African countries most affected by the Ebola outbreak and under CDC travel warnings: Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. These restrictions prohibit students, faculty, and staff to travel to the affected countries for Cornell-related reasons, and strongly discourage both traveling to these countries for personal reasons and hosting visitors from these countries.
[See the CDC's Guidance for Colleges, Universities and Students about Ebola in West Africa.]

Health consultation and screening

REQUIRED − A consultation with Gannett is required in these circumstances:

1.  If you have recently (in the past 21 days):
     »  traveled to Guinea, Liberia, or Sierra Leone;
     »  had contact with someone who has; or
     »  had known exposure to a person with Ebola ...

  • Telephone Gannett at 607 255-5155 before you return to campus.
  • We will work with you to establish plans that will support your health and assure the safety of others.
  • We will ask a variety of questions about your recent experience and arrangements in Ithaca, and determine appropriate next steps.
  • We will provide specific information about how to monitor your health through the 21 day incubation period.
  • We will talk with you about your questions, concerns, and needs.

2.  If you are considering hosting one or more visitors who are from or have visited Guinea, Liberia, or Sierra Leone:

  • Contact Gannett at 607 255-5155 for a consultation.
  • We will ask about your your visitor, timeline, arrangements, etc.
  • We will establish plans that will assure safety for you and others.

3.  If you are considering travel to Guinea, Liberia, or Sierra Leone:

  • Call Gannett at 607 255-5155 to schedule an appointment at our Travel Clinic.
  • We will discuss your hopes, timeline, and arrangements.
  • We will update you on the situation in the area you are thinking of traveling to.
  • Please be advised there are limited situations for which Cornell will consider an exception to the travel restrictions stated above. The CDC warns against all nonessential travel to the affected countries, including for educational purposes.
  • If you are granted an exception to Cornell's travel restrictions, we will review resources and personal safety information and establish expectations regarding your return to campus.

RECOMMENDED − We encourage consultation with Gannett in these circumstances:

1.  You are planning international travel and need health and safety-related advice (about Ebola or any other concern). Please schedule an appointment with our Travel Clinic at least 4 to 6 weeks before your planned departure.

2.  You are hosting visitors and are uncertain whether they have been in Guinea, Liberia, or Sierra Leone in the past 21 days. We can discuss what you do know and whether it is important to find out more information. At present, most African countries have fewer reported cases than we have had in the U.S. However, it is prudent to anticipate how fear and misinformation (driven by the current media frenzy) might affect you and your visitor(s).

How should Cornell community members seek Ebola-related medical care or consultation?

Students, visiting scholars, visiting friends and relatives:

Please CALL Gannett at 607 255-5155. We will consult with you and provide guidance about next steps. If you have concerns about your possible exposure to Ebola, we will discuss precautions you should take before going to a health care facility.

Faculty and staff:

Please CALL your primary care provider. If you have general questions or concerns that Gannett can assist with (including concerns about a student or colleague), please feel free to call us.

Where can Cornell community members find emotional support or counseling services?

We understand that some members of our community may be experiencing anxiety or distress related to Ebola, including those who have family or loved ones in the affected countries. We encourage you to please ask for help if you need it, and to speak with someone who can listen, provide support, and offer perspective.


Faculty and staff:

Please contact the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program to speak with or make an appointment with a counselor.

What are good resources for learning more about Ebola?

From Weill Cornell Medical College

From the NY State Department of Health:

From the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

From the World Health Organization:

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Cornell travel restrictions

Given the evolving situation and Cornell's responsibility to protect the health of the community, the university has instituted travel restrictions.* These restrictions align with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel warnings against any nonessential travel to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

  • Cornell students, faculty, and staff may not travel for study abroad, research, internships, service, conferences, presentations, teaching, performances, recruiting or athletic competitions in the three West African nations under CDC travel warnings, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone (the list may change, so see CDC website for countries covered by current travel advisories).
  • Travel for personal reasons to countries under CDC travel warnings is strongly discouraged. Medical evacuation is virtually impossible.  Individuals who show any signs of fever, whether they have been exposed to the disease or not, face significant challenges leaving these countries and risk being quarantined together with Ebola patients.  In addition, security in this region of West Africa has deteriorated, and health risks do not appear to be diminishing.
  • Hosting visitors from countries under CDC travel warnings for personal or Cornell-related purposes is strongly discouraged.

* See university statement on Cornell's Ebola preparedness and restrictions on travel 
   (October 16, 2014).

Appeal process

  • Any exception to the restriction on student travel will require an application for an exemption per the guidelines in the University Travel policy. Students must fill out an ITART application 2 to 6 weeks before their intended travel.
  • Any exception to the restriction on faculty and staff travel will require an application to Risk Management and Insurance.
  • Direct questions about the travel restriction or appeal process to Risk Management and Insurance:  607 254-1575.

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