COVID-19 Testing Process

Last updated: September 10, 2020


To provide an additional layer of safety to the ongoing public health and preventive efforts, Columbia University requires an initial single COVID-19 PCR diagnostic test of all faculty, staff, and students who are returning to campus per New York State guidance. For those faculty and staff who have been consistently working on campus, an opportunity to receive a single COVID-19 PCR diagnostic test is being offered but is not required.

    You must complete a symptom self-check before getting a COVID-19 diagnostic test on the Morningside campus.

    The goal of initial testing for individuals returning to campus is to estimate the prevalence of infection among those individuals. Initial testing helps us compare the prevalence among those newly returning to campus to overall prevalence in NYC.  

    The University has also developed a sampling strategy for follow-up to initial testing. We will continue to evaluate and adjust the testing strategy going forward.

    It is important to keep in mind that public health measures to prevent spread of the virus such as face coverings, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and other non-pharmaceutical interventions have been shown to be effective in prevention of transmission of the virus, from both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals. These actions are the most important preventive measures our community can take.

    Note: COVID-19 testing at these locations is only available to test Columbia faculty, staff, and students who have been notified that they need an initial COVID-19 gateway test, or a follow-up surveillance test as part of the University’s ongoing testing strategy. These sites are NOT for testing of individuals with symptoms, for “voluntary” testing, for family members, or for any other reason outside of the required Columbia University Test and Trace Program. Please visit the NYC Health & Hospitals site for additional testing resources.

    Tests done at any other location will not fulfill the campus testing requirement.

    There is no cost to you for this testing.

    Testing Protocol

    Updated: September 10, 2020

    A. Initial Gateway Testing

    All Columbia faculty, staff, and students are eligible for initial COVID-19 gateway testing prior to return to campus. 

    All faculty and staff who are returning to campus on or after June 22 are expected to have a COVID-19 PCR test prior to your return to campus (except for clinical faculty). A negative test result is required prior to return to campus. All employees who have been consistently working on campus prior to this time are eligible to receive a test, though not required.

    All students returning to campus over the summer and in the fall (including those returning to campus housing) are required to have an initial gateway COVID-19 PCR test prior to resuming campus activities. Students living in Columbia dormitories and students living in Morningside Graduate Housing will be tested before being allowed to move in. Students living in CUIMC Graduate Housing must be tested within one business day of 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 on the initial gateway test. For those students who have remained on campus throughout the spring and summer and have not yet been tested, the initial gateway test should be completed between August 17 and August 28.

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

    All participants coming from outside the United States or from states identified by the New York State travel advisory may be tested and then return to their residence to complete the 14-day precautionary travel quarantine. Results of the gateway test do not change the requirement to quarantine for 14 days. You cannot test out of quarantine.

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

    B. Ongoing Surveillance Testing

    Ongoing surveillance testing will also be provided. Undergraduate students are required to undergo frequent diagnostic testing throughout the term. Currently, all graduate students, faculty and staff who are on campus are required to participate in the ongoing surveillance testing program. Each week, a random sample of those accessing campus is invited for a repeat test. You will be notified by email when you are eligible for and required to have ongoing surveillance testing. Additional testing through the testing centers is not available for other reasons.

    Summary of testing approaches, including the ongoing surveillance testing plans, can be found here:

    C. Symptomatic Testing

    If you have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, please contact your campus health service (students) or your primary care provider (faculty and staff) for guidance on testing. Please do not come to one of the Columbia Testing Locations if you are having symptoms.

    Columbia has two sites for COVID-19 surveillance testing:

    • Morningside Campus: Roone Arledge Auditorium at Alfred Lerner Hall, 2920 Broadway (115th Street and Broadway)
      • Enter from the campus side
      • Follow directional signage and staff instructions to the testing center
      • Face coverings and completion of the ReopenCU app attestation are required for entry into the building
    • Columbia University Irving Medical Center: Schaefer Awards Gallery, William Black Building, 650 W. 168th St., 1st floor
      • Enter through the William Black Building (650 W. 168th St.)
      • Follow directional signage to the testing center
      • Face coverings and completion of the ReopenCU app attestation are required for entry into the building
    • Testing is available by appointment only; walk-ins will not be accepted
    • To schedule your appointment, go to the Online Patient Portal
    • Sign in with your UNI and UNI password
    • Select "Appointments" from the main menu
    • Select “Required COVID-19 testing” by location (Morningside or CUIMC)
    • Select the appointment day and time
    • Once your appointment is scheduled, the system will display a QR code. We encourage you to save the QR code to your phone as a screenshot or print it out. You can always access the code by logging back into the Online Patient Portal. The QR code is a touchless way to check in for your testing appointment
    • If you are unable to schedule through the Online Patient Portal, email for assistance
    • Complete your symptom self-screening (ReopenCU app) prior to coming to the testing center. Do not come if you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 (e.g., fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, fatigue, muscle aches, loss of sense of smell or taste, or stomach upset). Those who are experiencing symptoms should self-isolate and contact their health care provider
    • Face covering is required when coming to your testing appointment
    • Bring your Columbia ID (if you have one) to your appointment. If you do not have your CUID yet, staff will be able to locate your record using your UNI or the QR code
    • Arrive at the time of your appointment, and follow all directional signage and staff instructions
    • Have your appointment QR code ready to scan as you reach check-in
    • At the check-in desk, present your QR code for scanning. This will check you in for your appointment
    • You will be given a label for your specimen. This is your personal label and must not be dropped or lost
    • You will then be directed into a testing booth
    • You will be instructed to:
      • Immediately apply your label to the specimen tube
      • Lower your face covering to under your nose but keep your mouth covered
      • Blow your nose well using the tissues provided, and dispose used tissues into the garbage can
      • Use the hand sanitizer provided
      • Follow the directions on the table with the observer watching you to collect your nasal swab, including opening the packaging, collecting the swab, and placing it back into the tube
      • Leave the swab on the table in the testing booth
      • Use the hand sanitizer provided
      • Replace your face covering
    • Exit following the directional signage
    • The entire process should take less than 10 minutes

    You will receive either an email or a phone call when your results are available. In the event of a positive test result, you will be contacted by telephone and provided with guidance for isolation, care, and follow-up.

    Emails will provide you with instructions on how to access your results:

    • When your results are available, you will receive an email to your Columbia email address from
    • The email will alert you that your recent laboratory results are available and will require you to click a link contained in the email to register, using the registration code provided
    • Once you click the link, you will be brought to the Broad Institute Care Evolve page, where you will need to enter your Columbia email address and the registration code.
    • After confirming your identity, you will be asked to enter 2 security questions and answers, as well as a password
    • You will receive confirmation of your registration, and a second email will be sent with a link to your results
    • Once you click that link, you will have to enter the new code your received, and then log into the system using your email and password
    • You will be able to view and download your results by clicking on the test and date
    • For issues with registering to view your results, email