COVID-19 Testing Program for Fall 2021

The Columbia University Test and Trace program has supplemented 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 last year, we have constantly reviewed and refined our approach to SARS-CoV-2 testing and have maintained a low level of positivity across our campuses.

The updated testing program for Fall 2021 term takes into account the University-wide vaccine mandate, the decreasing number of new COVID-19 cases and PCR test positivity in New York City and the U.S., as well as the potential for infections in vaccinated individuals and emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 variants, and the need to protect vulnerable members of the Columbia community.

For the purposes of this document, “fully vaccinated” is defined as 2 weeks after the second dose in a 2-dose series and 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine.

Testing Program

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 based on CDC, New York State and New York City guidance.
  6. That testing results be provided in a timely manner, ideally within 24 hours of specimen arrival at the laboratory, in order to promptly allow positive individuals to self-isolate and to promptly 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 approaches in place at the University as well as agreeing to participate in the testing program.

Updated: July 8, 2021

Utilizing the data and experience of the prior year’s Columbia Testing Program, as well as consideration of the public health conditions in New York City, Columbia University’s Fall 2021 testing plan is as follows:

A. Fall 2021 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 Fall 2021 Term for the first time since January 2021 are required to complete COVID-19 gateway testing. No gateway testing is required for Columbia affiliates who have been present on campus during the Spring and Summer 2021 terms as they will have already completed this gateway test.

For unvaccinated or partially vaccinated individuals, and individuals who may have a sub- optimal vaccine response due to underlying medical conditions and have received approved medical accommodations, the COVID-19 PCR gateway test must be completed prior to accessing campus. For those with these criteria who live in campus residences, they must quarantine while awaiting the result of their gateway test.

For fully vaccinated individuals, this COVID-19 PCR gateway test must be completed by September 9. Campus access will be allowed while awaiting results of the gateway test.

This graphic shows the process for gateway testing for Morningside students.

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

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. Surveillance Testing

Ongoing surveillance testing will also be required.

  1. Any Columbia affiliates (i.e., faculty, staff, students, retirees, trustees, and select contract employees) who will be accessing Columbia campuses during the Fall 2021 Term and have received a medical or religious exemption for COVID-19 vaccination will be required to undergo once weekly SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic PCR testing throughout the term.
  2. Any Columbia affiliates (i.e., faculty, staff, students, retirees, trustees, and select contract employees) who will be accessing Columbia campuses during the Fall 2021 Term and who may have a sub-optimal vaccine response due to underlying medical conditions and have received approved medical accommodations will be required to undergo once weekly SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic PCR testing throughout the term.
  3. Any Columbia affiliates (i.e., faculty, staff, students, retirees, trustees, and select contract employees) who are arriving from an international destination and are not considered fully vaccinated with a vaccine authorized by the FDA or WHO will be required to undergo once weekly SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic PCR testing until they are fully vaccinated (considered to be 2-weeks after final dose) .
  4. All fully vaccinated faculty, staff, and students who are accessing campus for any reason during the Fall 2021 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 will be determined based on the status of the epidemic, and other virologic and epidemiological data from the campus and the City.
  5. Waste water surveillance of undergraduate residential buildings on the Morningside campus will continue as another methodology to detect presence of COVID-19 cases in those settings. If a wastewater spike is detected in a building, all building residents will be required to test within 48 hours.
  6. Travel testing is available for individuals arriving from international locations as recommended by CDC on day 3-5 after arrival in the USA.

C. Voluntary Testing

Voluntary testing will remain available through September 30 for asymptomatic vaccinated faculty, staff, and students up to once weekly, if not selected in the weekly random sample. During September the voluntary testing program will be further evaluated.

D. Symptomatic Testing

Individuals with symptoms of 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.

Face coverings and completion of the ReopenCU app attestation are required for entry into buildings for testing appointments. Follow directional signage and staff instructions to the testing center.

If no appointments display for a given location it means testing is not available at that location on that day or all appointments are booked.  If it is a testing day as articulated in the schedule below, you may check back for cancellations and we work to add capacity in locations and at times when we can safely do so.  

COVID-19 Surveillance Testing Locations

  • Testing is available by appointment only; walk-ins are not accepted
  • If you arrive more than 10 minutes early you will be directed to wait outside the building until your scheduled time
  • If you arrive more than 10 minutes late you will be directed to leave the building and schedule a new appointment using the Columbia Health Online Patient Portal
  • Appointments cannot be scheduled by phone
  • If the date you prefer at a given location is not displaying options it indicates testing is not available at that location on that day (see above for locations and days/times) or all appointments are fully booked. 
  • If the date and location is an available testing date and fully booked you should check other sites or the portal periodically to see if more capacity has been added or there have been cancellations. 
  • It is not possible to add to a fully booked schedule.
  • If you are unable to schedule through the Online Patient Portal, email [email protected] for assistance


Step by Step Instructions

  • To schedule your appointment, go to the Columbia Health Online Patient Portal
  • Sign in with your UNI and UNI password
  • Select "Appointments" from the main menu and select "schedule an appointment"
  • Select “COVID-19 testing” by location 
  • Answer the question regarding symptoms (these locations are for asymptomatic testing only)
  • Provide your callback number if prompted
  • 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
  • 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, bring a photo ID and staff will be able to locate your record using your UNI or the QR code
  • Arrive at the time of your appointment; follow all directional signage and staff instructions
  • Individuals arriving early may be accommodated no more than 10 minutes before their scheduled time. If you are earlier you must wait outside of the respective buildings until your scheduled time
  • Individuals arriving late may be accommodated no more than 10 minutes after their scheduled time. If you are more than 10 minutes late you will not be admitted and must self-reschedule using the online system.
  • Have your ReOpenCU greenpass and appointment QR code ready to show on entry and 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
  • Complete the consent form (first time only)
  • 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 tube containing your 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 or inconclusive test result, you will be contacted by telephone and provided with guidance for isolation, care, and follow-up.

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

  • When your results are available, you will receive an email to your Columbia email address from [email protected]
  • 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. For those with an address, if this results in an error code, please try format instead.
  • 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
  • Registration is only required the first time
  • For issues with registering to view your results, email [email protected].

On occasion the lab may not be able to process a sample.  In these events you will receive a secure message (patient portal), an encrypted email, or a phone call notifying you to return for a repeat of the test.  

Failure to comply with the required gateway test, mandatory weekly testing for unvaccinated affiliates, or participation in the random sampling surveillance testing for faculty, staff, and students will result in reporting of non-compliance to departmental HR (faculty and staff) or Dean of Students (students) with potential for disciplinary action. Schools and departments will be responsible for assisting in follow up with members of their community who remain out of compliance.