COVID-19 Monitoring Plan

The Columbia University COVID-19 Monitoring Plan was developed to provide guidance for taking various actions to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Priority Metrics

Select metrics reflecting the epidemic status in New York City, including in neighborhoods where Columbia campuses are situated, as well as campus metrics, are monitored on an ongoing basis.

Infection Rates
  • Infection rate in New York City
  • Infection rate on campus
  • PCR positivity in New York City
  • PCR positivity on campus
COVID-19 Cases
  • COVID-19 cases in New York City
  • COVID-19 cases in neighborhoods surrounding campuses
  • COVID-19 hospitalizations in New York City
  • Number of COVID-19 cases on campus
Capacity for Care
  • Number, location, and size of COVID-19 clusters on campus
  • Capacity for isolation and quarantine of students
  • Capacity of Columbia Contract Tracing program
  • Hospital bed capacity

Key Thresholds

Based on these metrics, key thresholds were developed to trigger alerts (color coded as green, yellow, orange, and red) according to the determined level of risk of COVID-19.

These alerts are used to motivate a suite of specific actions.

When the threshold for a specific metric is reached on campus or in New York City, the risk level will be reviewed, and specific actions may be initiated accordingly to mitigate the spread of the virus. Careful consideration will be given to contextualizing the observed trends, keeping in mind the ongoing change in our knowledge about the epidemic and the need for flexibility in analyzing and acting upon reaching various metric thresholds and alert states. 

All actions will also be informed by local and state guidance.

Alert Levels

A color block of green, hex #90c134

Lower Risk

Rationale and Status

  • Fewer than 50 cases on campus
  • Fewer than 550 cases/day in New York City (7-day rolling average)
  • PCR testing positivity rate of less than 5% in New York City (7-day rolling average)
  • Fewer than 200 COVID-19 hospital admissions/day in New York City (7-day rolling average)


What to Expect

  • Reinforced face covering and physical distancing
  • Mix of in-person and virtual instruction
  • Restricted density for various spaces and buildings
  • Limiting use of shared space
  • Limiting sports training
  • Limiting field placements
  • Travel restrictions in place


A color block of yellow, hex #FCEC3B

Moderate Risk

Rationale and Status

  • More than 550 cases in New York City (7-day rolling average)
  • More than 200 hospitalizations in New York City (7-day rolling average)
  • PCR positivity greater than 5% in New York City (7-day rolling average)
  • Infection rate on campus higher than in New York City by 50%
  • Infection rate on campus greater than 1%
  • PCR positivity on campus higher than in New York City by 50%


What to Anticipate

  • Reinforced face covering and physical distancing
  • Adjusted testing strategy
  • Limiting movement off campus
  • Instruction to avoid off-campus gatherings
  • Limiting social gatherings on and off campus
  • Modified campus density threshold
  • Limiting scheduled events and gatherings
  • Restricting entry for visitors to campus buildings


A color block of orange, hex #FFB400

Moderate-High Risk

Rationale and Status

  • COVID-19 cases on campus more than 100 or 5% of population, whichever is smaller*
  • COVID-19 isolation and quarantine capacity on campus at less than 20%
  • COVID-related hospitalizations in New York City greater than 5/100,000


What to Anticipate

  • Adjusted testing strategy
  • Transitioning to virtual-only instruction for specified time period*
  • Reassess nonessential faculty and staff working virtually
  • Stay-at-home and in-residence guidance for students**
  • Maintenance of restricted travel policy

*For defined two-week period as per New York State guidance. **Except for food, medical, and educational purposes.


A color block of orange, hex #DC2A2A

Higher Risk

Rationale and Status

  • Widespread transmission on campus, i.e., multiple clusters or transmission
  • Overall sustained transmission in New York City or in zip codes immediately surrounding campuses (PCR positivity greater than 5% on 7-day rolling average)
  • New York City hospitals reach or exceed critical capacity thresholds
  • State or city directives to avoid all non-essential activities


What to Anticipate

  • Suspension of all nonessential campus operations
  • Potential density reduction of residential campus buildings
  • Only essential workers allowed in campus facilities
  • Adjusted testing strategy