Modeling for COVID-19 College Reopening Decisions (And Spinoff New Directions)



                          Faculty Distinguished Lecture

                            Faculty of Engineering

                        The Chinese University of Hong Kong



Title                    : Modeling for COVID-19 College Reopening Decisions (And Spinoff New Directions)

Speaker             : Professor Shane G. Henderson, Charles W. Lake, Jr. Chair in Productivity, School of Operations Research and Information Engineering, Cornell University

Date                   : 10 January 2024 (Wenesday)

Time                   : 11:00a.m. –  12:00n.n.

Venue                :  Rm 801, 8/F, Ho Sin Hang Engineering Building


Like all universities, in the summer of 2020 Cornell faced the question of whether to go online-only in the fall or to bring students back for a residential semester. Like many universities, Cornell decided on a residential semester for its Ithaca campus. Like few universities who invited all students back, Cornell managed to keep COVID-19 at bay for the entire semester. Our modeling team played a major role in the decision to reopen, perhaps paradoxically showing that with appropriate interventions a residential semester was safer than an online-only one. Our team also helped design the major interventions deployed, including asymptomatic surveillance through pooled testing on-site, adaptive testing and a complete rebuild of the class schedule. The arrival of the Alpha variant in the spring of ’21 and the Delta variant in fall of 2021 caused us to repeatedly strengthen our interventions, again only after modeling showed the potential benefits. The explosive arrival on campus of Omicron late in the fall 2021 semester led to a major change of strategy, again guided by the work of the modeling team. All of this work required great care in capturing uncertainty in key input parameters such as asymptomatic infection rates and, more recently, vaccine effectiveness. Our success was also aided by the unique features of Cornell’s Ithaca campus. I’ll conclude by briefly discussing recent research directions inspired by this work.


Professor Shane G. Henderson holds the Charles W. Lake, Jr. Chair in Productivity in the School of Operations Research and Information Engineering (ORIE) at Cornell University. His research interests include discrete-event simulation, simulation optimization, emergency services planning and transportation. He is an INFORMS Fellow and a co-recipient of the INFORMS Wagner Prize for his work on bike-sharing programs. He has served as Director of the School of ORIE, as chair of the INFORMS Applied Probability Society, and as editor in chief of the journal Stochastic Systems. He likes cats, climbing walls, biking, Harry Potter and being a Dad.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024 - 11:00