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“If the students don’t come back in the fall, we’re in real cataclysmic trouble,” Mayor Svante Myrick said during an interview with CNBC.
Ithaca is home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, which together have more than 26,500 students that contribute to a massive portion of its economy. The city, meanwhile, has a population of about 31,000 people.
“It’s not just pizza shops and it’s not just bars. It’s not just restaurants. It’s barbershops. It’s nail salons. It’s accountants. It’s law firms,” Myrick said, according to the news channel. “The ripple effects of all of our students staying home and not coming back to campus, would be crippling.”
His comments come the same day that Ithaca announced it would be re-opening for students and in-person classes on Oct. 5 — a month later than normal. Both Ithaca and Cornell University closed their campuses to students in mid-March, to protect their safety amid the COVID-19 public health crisis.
Myrick, a Democrat who graduated from Cornell back in 2009, says the city is also facing a budget shortfall stemming from the crisis.
“Honestly, that budget deficit assumes that the students are coming back in the fall,” he added.
Ithaca is part of the Southern Tier region of New York, which among other areas began its phased reopening from coronavirus induced shutdowns last Friday.
While the economy will most likely be impacted further due to the virus and lack of activity on campus, having students back also raises questions regarding their health compared to the benefit of the city.
Myrick said he understands getting the economy back to normal might be impacted by potential travel restrictions and fears over the virus that’s infected more than 1,508,598 people and killed at least 90,300 in the U.S, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
If parents and students are still fearful amid an increase in COVID-19 cases or second wave over the summer, he understands it likely won’t matter if those enrolled are allowed to come back to campus or not.
“We cannot actually get back to where we were … unless the rest of the nation and, frankly, the rest of the world gets the virus under control, because a big part of our strength is our interconnectedness,” Myrick told CNBC.
“If we’re not sure that our students can come back to the United States or if parents in California will feel comfortable sending their kids to Cornell in the fall, then our economy won’t get back to where it was.”
New York has 351,371 total coronavirus cases as of early Tuesday, more than any other state in the U.S.