COVID-19 Public Health Protocols

Updated: April 11, 2022

A commitment to comply with all public health guidance is included in the Columbia Community Health 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.

For guidance on testing, contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine, please email [email protected].

To schedule a testing appointment, visit 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 7, 2022

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 evaluated to determine if the need to self-quarantine for 10 days, and are given guidance on how to take care of themselves and prevent transmission to other people.

Learn more about Columbia's Contact Tracing program.

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: January 24, 2022 

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: 
    1. Most 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 
    2. If they test negative, they can return to their regular accommodation without restrictions, or to quarantine depending on the exposure 
    3. If they test positive, they will continue to isolate 
  2. Individuals who are diagnosed with COVID-19: Most 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 resources to obtain medical support as needed 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. 

Discontinuation of Isolation 

All individuals who test positive for COVID-19 can end their isolation after 5 days if they are asymptomatic. Day 0 is considered the first day of symptom onset and/or the day of a positive test result. 

Please wear a well-fitting mask while around others for an additional 5 days. Individuals who are unable to wear a well-fitting mask for 5 days after a 5-day isolation should follow standard (i.e., not shortened) 10-day isolation guidance.

Individuals who are moderately-severely immunocompromised should also follow standard (i.e., not shortened) 10-day isolation guidance.

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. 

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.  

Updated: January 7, 2022 

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. Quarantine requirements will be attested through the ReOpenCU app


Travelers arriving in New York are no longer required to submit traveler health forms. All travelers, domestic and international, should continue to follow all CDC travel requirements. 

Please review the Spring travel guidelines for most recent guidance. 

Regardless of vaccine status, returning domestic and international travelers must follow all other guidance including face coverings, hand washing, and physical distancing. If symptoms develop, they must immediately isolate, get a COVID-19 test from a symptomatic testing center and report positive results to [email protected]

Exposure as close contact of individual with COVID-19 

Close contacts are:

  • Individuals who have been in close contact for 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) 

Individuals who are fully vaccinated and have received booster dose

You do not need to quarantine. Such individuals are recommended to get tested on day 5-7 after last exposure. 

Individuals who are not vaccinated or not fully vaccinated or are eligible for a booster but have not yet received one

You should quarantine for 5 days – where day 0 is the last day of exposure – provided symptoms do not appear. Such individuals are recommended to get tested on day 5-7. 

Regardless of vaccination status, close contacts are encouraged to monitor for symptoms for the next 14 days. If symptoms develop, they must immediately isolate, get a PCR test from a symptomatic testing center and immediately report positive results to [email protected] 

Support for those in quarantine 

An important priority for successful quarantine is providing individuals with the supports to enable them to do so safely. 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. Visit the Columbia Health website for more information. 

Based on the current situation and in an abundance of caution, non-cloth masks will be required in classrooms beginning Monday morning April 11, 2022. This mandatory masking policy applies to classrooms only and is expected to remain in place for the few remaining weeks of our spring semester.  As has been our policy all year, instructors have the option to remove their masks while teaching. Current policies on masking in all other settings continue to be optional except for health care workers, who are required to mask in health care settings.*

Please respect everyone's choices.

Individuals who continue to mask outside or indoors in non-classroom settings are welcome to wear any mask of their choosing.

*Exception: For CUIMC and other clinical facilities (including COVID-19 testing centers), indoor masking remains in place for all patient-facing contexts. Individuals are required to wear 3-ply surgical masks or higher.

Benefit of Mask-wearing

Data continue to confirm that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can spread from individuals who lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and from those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) before they show symptoms. The risk of transmission is increased with close proximity (less than 6 feet) through speaking, coughing, singing, or sneezing. A mask worn by all individuals will reduce transmission as well as acquisition of the virus and prevent community spread of the disease.

Based on a study conducted by the CDC, improving the fit of a surgical or medical procedure mask or “double masking” (i.e., donning a 3-ply non-medical cloth mask over a 3-ply surgical mask) can further reduce the risk of exposure.

The fit of a surgical or medical procedure mask can be improved by knotting the ear loops of the mask and then tucking in and flattening the extra material close to the face to minimize the gaps (watch the video tutorial).

A study conducted in a laboratory found that the “double mask” combination and the improved fit of a surgical or medical procedure mask provided better protection to the wearer and to others as compared to a mask worn by itself or an unknotted surgical or medical procedure mask.

With respect to cleaning and disinfecting, the CDC has concluded that in most situations, the risk of infection from touching a surface is low, and the most reliable way to prevent infection from surfaces is to regularly wash hands or use hand sanitizer. Irrespective of that conclusion, the University is maintaining a robust cleaning and disinfecting program that meets – and in some areas exceeds – standards issued by the CDC, New York State Department of Health, and OSHA, with a strong focus on frequently touched surfaces

Updated: June 16, 2021

Please see Summer 2021 Travel Restrictions and Fall 2021 Travel Restrictions.

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