COVID-19 Public Health Protocols

Last updated: January 11, 2021

A commitment to comply with all public health guidance is included in the Columbia Community Heath Compact that all affiliates will be expected to sign as part of the return to campus. In addition, it is strongly recommended that all affiliates follow these guidelines when engaged in social and other activities off campus, including physical distancing, face covering, and hand hygiene.

COVID-19 Helpline

The Columbia Health COVID-19 Helpline (212-854-9355) is available Monday to Friday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Our team of nurses and health educators can answer general questions from Columbia students, faculty, and staff on COVID-19, and provide guidance on testing, contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine.

This helpline is not for scheduling testing appointments. Appointments can be self-scheduled via Please review the FAQs across the COVID-19 website for answers to most questions.

Updated: January 11, 2021

As part of our shared duty to reduce transmission of COVID-19, all members of the Columbia community are expected to monitor their health daily before coming to campus or leaving their residence hall room. All affiliates must attest to being free of any COVID-19 symptoms prior to entering campus each day.

In accordance with University policy and New York State regulations for re-opening, all University affiliates (faculty, staff, and students) who will be on campus are required to complete a daily symptom screening assessment. This can be completed in one of three ways. All three methods require a UNI and password to log in and prompt an affiliate to answer three simple screening questions indicating whether they have any symptoms associated with COVID-19, have been in close contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19, or have tested positive for COVID-19.

  • Online using the web app on a digital device.
  • Downloading the ReopenCU app from the App Store, which does not collect other data from your device.
  • Accessing the web app using kiosks located in the Morningside, Manhattanville, and CUIMC campuses.

Once you complete the process, if the answer to all questions is considered low risk, you will receive a 24-hour "green" pass.

The green pass will also be linked to University ID badges, and absence of a green pass will restrict entry into University buildings. Read more about the symptom self-checking process.

Affiliates are required by New York State regulations and University policy to immediately disclose if and when their responses to any of the symptom check-list questions changes, such as if they begin to experience symptoms, even if this occurs within the 24 hour period of completing their daily attestation. 

Columbia University will continue to follow CDC, New York City, and New York State Department of Health guidance regarding protocols and policies for affiliates seeking to return to campus after a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 or after the affiliate has had close or proximate contact with a person with COVID-19.

Updated: January 11, 2021

The Columbia University Test and Trace program supplements these measures by providing a robust and comprehensive testing surveillance program, complemented with rapid contact tracing, to further mitigate the risk of transmission on Columbia’s campuses.

In accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, screening, testing, and contact tracing can slow and stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The approach taken by Columbia to testing and contact tracing will protect individuals’ privacy and confidentiality consistent with all applicable laws and regulations.

The Columbia University Test and Trace Program has been designed based on extensive input from a broad group of individuals at Columbia with expertise in public health, epidemiology, infectious disease, modeling, and statistics. This has led to creation of a program that is both flexible and adaptable based on current COVID-19 conditions on campus and in New York City. 

Updated: January 11, 2021

Contact tracing is an important strategy to prevent spread of COVID-19. Individuals who are diagnosed with COVID-19 are asked about people with whom they have had close contact while they may have been infectious based on CDC definition of close contacts. These contacts are then notified about their potential exposure without revealing the identity of the person diagnosed with COVID-19, and they are asked to self-quarantine for 10 days and are given guidance on how to take care of themselves and prevent transmission to other people.

While primary contact tracing responsibilities and procedures for identified cases of COVID-19 are the responsibility of New York State and New York City, Columbia University has established a comprehensive Contact Tracing Program consistent with the New York State guidelines to trace the contacts of an individual testing positive. Guided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local public health agencies, the Columbia University Contact Tracing Program uses protocols and best practices for contact investigation and notification. The contact tracing program’s goal is to assist in conducting contact tracing for all cases identified among Columbia affiliates through the Columbia University Testing Program, or as reported to the University through the symptom attestation process. Persons who have not been notified by the local health authority or the Columbia University Contact Tracing Program are not considered to have increased risk because of exposure to individuals diagnosed with COVID-19. The Columbia Contact Tracing Program will partner with the New York City Test and Trace Program.

The Columbia University Contact Tracing Program is directly linked to the Columbia surveillance testing program and treats information sensitively and consistent with applicable New York State, HIPAA, and FERPA laws protecting the privacy of individuals. Any Columbia affiliate identified as having a positive test for COVID-19 through the testing program will be connected to the contact tracing program, and will be contacted by a contact tracer, and asked to share details of any close contact (defined as anyone they have been within 6 feet for a cumulative total of 10 or more minutes over a 24 hour period during the two days prior to the positive test result or the two days prior to the first onset of symptoms, whichever period is longer). These close contacts will then be notified by the contact tracer of their exposure that has put them at risk for infection, and will be provided guidance regarding quarantine and testing, and will be assisted as needed.

In addition, if an individual is identified as testing positive for COVID-19, the appropriate department, unit, or supervisor will be notified by a member of the testing or tracing team, Human Resources, academic department, or by the individual, if they choose. The notification will state that an individual has tested positive (while maintaining the confidentiality of the individual) and provide directions for appropriate management of specific spaces and for guidance on individual actions. Additionally, guidance will be provided on accessing appropriate medical and psychological support.

Information regarding contact tracing technologies is evolving, and the use of such tools by New York State and New York City is being taken into account, as well as investigating the potential use for additional contact tracing technologies within the Columbia community.

Columbia University asks all members of our community to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by promoting simple prevention practices every day. These include the  proper use of face coverings or masks, proper hand hygiene, and cough and sneeze etiquette.

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available. If your hands are visibly dirty, use soap and water over hand sanitizer. Key times for cleaning hands include:
    • When arriving to the office.
    • Before and after work breaks.
    • After blowing of nose, coughing, or sneezing.
    • After using the restroom.
    • Before eating or preparing food.
    • After putting on, touching, or removing cloth face coverings
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, or use the inside of elbow. Throw used tissues into no-touch trash cans and immediately wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol (see CDC’s coughing and sneezing etiquette for further guidance).
  • Stay home and avoid contact with others when you are sick; call ahead before seeking medical care.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

To assist with this:

  • Soap and water are provided in shared working and living spaces (workplace settings, classrooms, residence halls, etc.). Where soap and water are not readily available, alcohol-based hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol is available, and hand sanitizer availability in public spaces has been significantly increased.
  • Tissues and no-touch amenities (i.e., hand sanitizer dispensers, sinks, trash cans, water fountains, paper towel dispensers, hand dryers) can be found in multiple campus locations.
  • Signs have been posted around campus on how to stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2 virus. This signage reminds us to:
    • Cover your nose and mouth with a face covering.
    • Properly store and, when necessary, discard PPE.
    • Adhere to physical distancing instructions.
    • Report symptoms of or exposure to COVID-19.
    • Follow hand hygiene and cleaning and disinfection guidelines.
    • Follow appropriate respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette.

Last Updated: November 6, 2020

Isolation is the separation of sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick.

There are two scenarios where isolation is recommended:

  1. Individuals with symptoms of COVID-19 who have been tested and are awaiting test results:
    • These individuals will be asked to isolate in their room, apartment, or home. For certain student undergraduate populations, such individuals will be moved to a designated isolation space while they await test results
    • If they test negative, they can return to their regular accommodation without restrictions, or to quarantine depending on the exposure
    • If they test positive, they will continue to isolate
  1. Individuals who are diagnosed with COVID-19:
    • These individuals will be instructed to isolate in their room, apartment, or home. For certain undergraduate student populations, they will be moved to a separate COVID-19 isolation space.

If an individual is asked to isolate, they should follow the guidance here:

Students in the designated isolation facility will be provided with food delivery. All students in isolation, regardless of location, will be provided with daily medical support through telehealth, mental health virtual support spaces, and any necessary academic accommodations. Faculty and staff should reach out to their primary care provider for medical support.

Individuals who are isolating due to a diagnosis of COVID-19 must follow the guidance of their health care provider regarding discontinuation of isolation. For those with symptoms, this usually occurs when:

  • At least 10 days have passed since symptom onset and
  • At least 24 hours have passed since resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and
  • Other symptoms have improved

For those with a positive test who never develop symptoms, isolation can be discontinued 10 days after the date of their first positive RT-PCR test.

Support during Quarantine or Isolation for Morningside students: Columbia Health has designed a series of programs and services to support students' well-being needs while in quarantine or isolation in New York. Download the guide or visit the Columbia Health website for more information.

Repeat testing for individuals in isolation is not recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), based on evidence that individuals who have completed the time course described above are no longer infectious and that some individuals may continue to have positive PCR tests due to viral debris or non-infectious particles that may be detected by the PCR assay.

Further guidance on whether someone should isolate or quarantine can be found on this website.

Updated: January 12, 2021

Quarantine is the separating and restricting of the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease, to determine if they remain healthy or become sick, and to prevent the possible spread of the communicable disease. An important priority for successful quarantine is providing individuals to be quarantined with the supports to enable them to do so safely.

Quarantine requirements will be attested through the ReOpenCU app. There are currently two COVID-19 scenarios where quarantine upon arrival in New York State is required:

  1. Travel-related quarantine:
  • All affiliates arriving in New York from outside the United States or from a non-contiguous state can discontinue their quarantine after 10 days if no symptoms have been reported. They must continue to monitor symptoms daily for 14 days and follow all other guidance including face coverings, hand washing, and social distancing.
  • For travelers who travel outside of New York for less than 24 hours:
    • The traveler need not test prior to departure from the state or country, and does not need to quarantine upon arrival.
    • Such travelers must continue to fill out the traveler form upon entry
    • The traveler must take a diagnostic test on the fourth day after arrival in New York.
  • For travelers who have traveled outside of New York for more than 24 hours:
    • The traveler must seek testing prior to departure from that state or country, within 72 hours of departure, prior to arrival in New York.
    • The traveler must, upon arrival in New York, quarantine according to Department of Health guidelines for a minimum of three days, measured from time of arrival.
    • On day 4, the traveler may seek a diagnostic test to exit quarantine. The traveler may exit quarantine upon receipt of the second negative test result.
  • Per New York State’s Travel Advisory, all out-of-state travelers from designated states or countries must complete the required form upon entering New York. Travelers who leave the airport without completing the form will be subject to a $2,000 fine and may be brought to a hearing and ordered to complete mandatory quarantine. Travelers coming to New York from designated states through other means of transport, including trains and cars, must fill out the form online.
  • The only exception to this guidance for quarantine is for an individual who qualifies for the New York State exemption for essential workers, and are deemed as such by their department (including front line healthcare workers, researchers, or some clinical students). These individuals are required to adhere to the essential worker guidance upon their arrival in New York City, including getting a COVID-19 PCR test within 24 hours of return AND AGAIN on day 4 after return. The 24-hour test must be negative to return to work, but the essential worker can continue to work while waiting for the results of their day 4 test as long as they are asymptomatic and complete their daily ReOpenCU app.
  • The New York State Department of Health expects all travelers to comply with this quarantine. Pursuant to Executive Order 205, any individual who violates a quarantine order may be subject to a civil penalty of up to $10,000 or imprisonment up to 15 days per PHL 229
  1. Individuals identified as being a close contact of an individual with COVID-19 are required to quarantine for 10 days after their last contact with the infected individual if no symptoms have been reported. They must continue to monitor symptoms daily for 14 days and follow all other guidance including face coverings, hand washing, and social distancing.
    • Individuals who have been in close contact for a 10 or more minutes in a single instance or a cumulative total of 15 or more minutes over a 24-hour period at distance of less than 6 ft with an individual who tests positive for SARS-CoV-2
    • Individuals who share a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and/or common living space with an individual who tests positive for COVID-19 (suite mates or same floor area)

If an individual is asked to quarantine, they should follow the guidance here:

In most cases, individuals can quarantine in their regular residence while taking appropriate precautions to protect those they live with. Individuals under quarantine must stay home (except when directed by a medical professional), maintain distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others, consistently use face covering/face mask and arrange for food and grocery deliveries. They should also monitor their health. At the end of the quarantine period if the individual has no symptoms, their quarantine can be ended with no further actions. If at any time, the individual develops symptoms, they should contact their health care provider for further guidance and testing.

Support during Quarantine or Isolation for Morningside students: Columbia Health has designed a series of programs and services to support students' well-being needs while in quarantine or isolation in New York. Download the guide or visit the Columbia Health website for more information.

Updated: January 11, 2021

Data continues to confirm that COVID-19 can spread from individuals who lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and from those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) before they show symptoms. They can pass the virus to others they interact with in close proximity through speaking, coughing, or sneezing. A mask or face covering worn by all individuals can reduce community spread of the disease.

Wearing a face covering to cover the mouth and nose is required, consistent with CDC, New York State, and New York City guidelines, while on university property at all times. Acceptable face coverings include, but are not limited to cloth (e.g. homemade sewn, quick cut, bandana) and surgical masks. Face masks with exhalation valves or vents and fleece face coverings are NOT recommended and should not be worn. Face shields should not be worn without another face-covering. The face covering may be removed by individuals in single offices or bedrooms when no other individuals are present and the door is closed, or when eating (while maintaining 6 feet physical distancing). These are the only exceptions to the requirement for face covering on Columbia’s campuses.

  • Columbia University is providing face coverings to Columbia affiliates, if they do not have their own, at no cost.
  • Training is being provided to all Columbia affiliates on how to put on, take off, clean (as applicable), and discard masks and face coverings. 
  • All members of the University community are asked to intervene in socially appropriate ways if they observe individuals with lapses in face coverings. 

Social or physical distancing separates individuals by at least 6 feet (or 2 arms’ length), and helps reduce the spread of infection, particularly as COVID-19 can be spread by people before they are sick. To support this, always stay at least 6 feet from other individuals, do not gather in groups, and stay out of crowded spaces.

  • Columbia University is maintaining virtual operations for non-essential activities and resuming on-campus activities within the lower risk category based on the risk matrices developed by each school/institute/entity.
  • The University is limiting maximum occupancy to no more than 50% at any given time for each building or facility as set by the building’s certificate of occupancy or similar governing documents (as per phase II New York State guidance). This includes all internal program spaces such as offices, labs, classrooms, dormitories, dining halls, libraries, and transportation shuttles. Social/physical distancing guidance requires, when feasible, maintaining 6 feet of separation in combination with proper use of face coverings.
  • Physical space is being adjusted to ensure spacing of seating to at least 6 feet apart in offices, classrooms, labs, conference rooms, communal spaces, etc. and, where feasible, by turning seats to face in the same direction (rather than facing each other) to reduce transmission caused from virus-containing droplets (e.g., from talking, coughing, sneezing).
  • Whenever possible, the University is ensuring that there is one person per room, or maintaining 6 feet of physical/social distancing per person if space is shared. If 6 feet distancing is not attainable, an adequate partition may be installed and all occupants should wear face covering while in the space. 
  • Consideration is being given to provision of extra time or staggering arrival and exit of buildings and at the start and end of in-person aggregated activities to allow individuals to enter and exit buildings, classrooms, restrooms while maintaining 6 feet of physical distancing.
  • The University is restricting the use of small spaces (e.g. supply rooms, personal offices, vehicles, restrooms) by more than one individual at a time, or by a reduced number to ensure physical distancing can be maintained, while wearing face coverings. The occupancy must never exceed 50% of the maximum capacity of the space or vehicle. Signage in these spaces indicates capacity and occupancy limits.
  • Ventilation is being increased with outdoor air to the greatest extent possible (e.g., opening windows and doors in individual office rooms), while maintaining safety protocols.
  • Ridership in elevators is being limited according to occupancy limits, and individuals are encouraged to take the stairs if able.
  • Measures have been implemented where feasible to redirect pedestrian circulation patterns in buildings to reduce areas of congestion.
  • Floor decals and signage installed in building lobbies and communal areas demonstrate a minimum spacing of 6 feet between occupants.
  • Columbia University continues to encourage the use of video or teleconferencing for meetings whenever possible to reduce the density of in-person gatherings, per CDC guidance “Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).”
  • If a meeting must be held in person, it should be in an open, well-ventilated space while ensuring that individuals maintain 6 feet of physical/social distance between persons and wear appropriate face coverings.
  • The University has closed non-essential communal areas that promote gathering or are high-touch or limit occupancy.
  • Measures have been taken to avoid shared food and beverages (e.g. buffet style meals), and ensure adequate space for social distancing while eating meals.

The CDC specifically recommends routine disinfecting and cleaning of surfaces and objects that are frequently touched, according to the directions on the label of the cleaning solution. Columbia University has developed and implemented a plan to perform regular cleanings to reduce the risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 consistent with CDC Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting. Facilities and Operations has implemented many enhancements to its pre-COVID cleaning procedures.

Last updated: December 23, 2020

To reduce further spread of COVID-19, Columbia University continues to have travel restrictions.  Affiliates should follow all local, state, and federal travel restrictions, and should consult with CDC guidance.  

Columbia faculty, staff, and students are required to follow local, state, and federal travel restrictions, and should consult with CDC guidance. Read about the Updated New York State Travel Guidance to learn more about how travel to and from New York will affect testing and quarantine requirements.

On campus, Columbia has established designated areas for pickups and deliveries, limiting contact to the extent possible.

The following norms are expected of all members of the Columbia community:

  • Adhering to safety practices and self-care for successful re-activation of phases of activities at the University and throughout the response and recovery phases from the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Informing supervisor if concerned about own or colleagues’ safety. If supervisor is not responsive, then issue should be raised with their Dean, Dean of Students, Faculty Affairs or Human Resources Department. The University has a policy in place of non-retaliation against individuals who raise concerns based on legitimate motivations.
  • Intervening, if comfortable doing so, in non-confrontational ways if evidence of stigmatizing or discriminatory behavior against individuals who have had COVID-19 or groups perceived to be at risk for SARS-CoV-2 is observed. Stigma can lead to reluctance to disclose symptoms or diagnosis of COVID-19 or prevent individuals from seeking testing and care.
  • Reporting incidents of stigmatization or discrimination to supervisor or if not responsive to Dean, Dean of Students, Faculty Affairs or Human Resources Department. Resources are available to aid in reporting such incidents