Columbia University Test and Trace Program Spring 2021 Plan

Last updated: April 2, 2021

The Columbia University Test and Trace program continues to supplement the many protective measures in place across the University by providing a robust and ongoing testing surveillance program, supported by rapid contact tracing, to further mitigate the risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 on Columbia’s campuses. Throughout the fall term, we have constantly reviewed and refined our approach to SARS-CoV-2 testing. In anticipation of the Spring term, we are providing the following updates to the testing program.

I. Testing Program Guiding Principles and Considerations

The following key principles and considerations that inform the Columbia University Testing Program will continue in place:

  1. That there be a single testing program for the University, across all campuses, schools, and institutes.
  2. That no out-of-pocket costs or insurance billing for individuals tested be a necessary part of the program.
  3. To the extent possible, that testing be centralized in order to ensure quality and uniformity of test performance.
  4. That testing laboratories be compliant with applicable regulations regarding diagnostic testing, specifically, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review of the test assay, Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) laboratory certification, and approval of the laboratory by New York State Department of Health.
  5. That all results of the testing be confidential with adherence to all applicable New York State, HIPAA, and FERPA laws protecting the privacy of individual health and educational information. Columbia affiliates who test positive through the Columbia testing program will be referred to the tracing component of the program for further management and tracking of close contacts.
  6. That testing results be provided in a timely manner, ideally within 24 hours of arrival at the laboratory, in order to promptly allow positive individuals to self-isolate and to initiate contact tracing.
  7. That sample collection be conveniently available, minimally intrusive and convenient to the individuals seeking testing and the test uses approaches such as self-collected, observed, nasal swabbing (rather than the deeper, clinician-administered nasopharyngeal swabbing procedure).
  8. That the assay must have high sensitivity and specificity.
  9. That participation in the testing program be mandatory. All affiliates returning to campus will be required to sign the Columbia Community Health Compact agreeing to follow all of the elements of the public health approach outlined above as well as agreeing to participate in the testing program.

II. Testing Approaches

Utilizing the data and experience of the Fall Columbia Testing Program, as well as consideration of the public health conditions in New York City, Columbia University’s Spring testing plan is as follows:

     A. Spring Term Gateway Testing

All Columbia affiliates (i.e. faculty, staff, students, retirees, trustees, and select contract employees) who will be accessing Columbia campuses during the Spring term are required to complete COVID-19 gateway testing, which will commence January 4, 2021. This is required of ALL Columbia affiliates, regardless of whether gateway testing was completed in summer and fall 2020 and whether they have been accessing campus previously.

All faculty, staff, and students NOT living in Columbia dormitories, Morningside Graduate Housing, or CUIMC Graduate Housing who will be accessing campus for the spring term are required to have a COVID-19 PCR gateway test within 14 days of their return to campus in the spring term. Campus access will be allowed while awaiting results of the gateway test.

All students living in Columbia dormitories, Morningside Graduate Housing, or CUIMC Graduate Housing are required to have a COVID-19 gateway test within one business day upon their return to campus. Students returning to campus are able to move into their residence but are then required to quarantine there until receipt of a negative test result. For those students who have remained on campus throughout the recess period, the spring gateway test should be completed by January 15, 2021.

Barnard students will be tested through Barnard's testing program; more information can be found here.

Individuals who have had a positive SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic test in the prior 90 days do not need to undergo gateway testing or surveillance testing during the three months since their positive tests, unless they have symptoms of COVID-19. Read the COVID-19 FAQs for more details.

     B. Testing for affiliates arriving from outside the United States

All affiliates arriving in New York from outside the United States (excluding healthcare personnel) are required to either quarantine for 7 days with a test 3-5 days after travel, or quarantine for 10 days without a test. This requirement applies to all international travelers whether they were tested before boarding, are recovered from a previous COVID infection, or are fully vaccinated.

Asymptomatic domestic travelers arriving in New York State other U.S. states and territories are not required to quarantine. Domestic travelers do not need to quarantine if they are fully vaccinated or have recovered from laboratory confirmed COVID-19 within the previous 3 months. While not required, quarantine is still recommended for all other asymptomatic domestic travelers for either 7 days with a test 3-5 days after travel or 10 days without a test, consistent with the CDC recommendations.

      C. Ongoing Surveillance Testing

Ongoing surveillance testing will also be required.

All undergraduate students living in an on-campus residence will be required to undergo twice weekly SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic testing throughout the term. Students will be assigned a testing schedule and are required to comply.

All undergraduate students not living in an on-campus residence and all graduate and professional students who are accessing campus during the spring term will be strongly recommended to undergo weekly SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic testing throughout the term.

All faculty and staff who are accessing campus for two or more days per week during the spring term are strongly recommended to undergo weekly SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic testing throughout the spring term.

All faculty, staff, and students (excluding undergraduate students) who are accessing campus for one or more days per week during the spring term are required to participate in the ongoing surveillance testing program. Each week, a random sample of  those accessing campus will be notified by email if selected and will be required to get tested within two weeks of selection. The proportion sampled may be selected and adjusted based on the status of the epidemic.

Waste water surveillance of several residential buildings on the Morningside campus will also continue as another methodology to detect presence of COVID-19 cases in those settings.

     D. Faculty and Staff Voluntary Testing

Faculty and staff who regularly access campus during the spring term but do not fall into the above criteria i.e. access campus only once a week, or those who require travel-related testing (as noted in section B above), are allowed at most one SARS-CoV-2 test per week on a voluntary basis.

     E. Symptomatic Testing

Individuals with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, should contact their campus medical service (students) or primary care provider (faculty and staff) for guidance on testing. The Columbia Testing Locations CANNOT be accessed by individuals with symptoms. Individuals with symptoms making false entries on the ReOpenCU app to obtain a green pass and access testing centers are subject to disciplinary action for falsifying information and potentially endangering the University community.

III. Compliance Monitoring

     A. Gateway Testing

A repeat gateway test is required for all affiliates accessing campus for the spring term. This includes individuals who have been on campus throughout the fall term and winter break.  These gateway tests will be administered starting January 4, 2021. Campus access via ReOpenCU app and Lenel ID card swipe will be restricted for anyone not completing a gateway test by January 25, 2021. Access will be restored within 48 hours of completion of a gateway test.

     B. Surveillance Testing

Failure to comply with the mandatory twice weekly testing for undergraduate students in residence or participation in the random sampling surveillance testing for faculty, staff, and students will result in a “red pass” on the ReOpen CU app, deactivation of the Lenel ID card swipe access, and inability to access campus until testing is completed. Schools and departments will be responsible for assisting in follow up with members of their community who remain out of compliance. Initially, compliance will not be enforced for graduate student weekly testing.