Health Advisory: Testing, Tracing, Quarantine, and Isolation

August 04, 2020

Dear Members of the Columbia Community,

On July 23, you received a communication from the Office of the Provost entitled “Towards a Safe Campus.” I write to share with you the details on the University’s new health protocols for testing, tracing, quarantine, and isolation. These protocols apply to everyone who is physically present at any one of our three campuses, effective June 22, 2020. 

To resume University activities in a manner that limits the potential spread of SARS-CoV-2 and creates a COVID-19–ready campus, Columbia is instituting critical public health measures including face covering and mask wearingphysical distancinghand hygienedaily symptom checking and reporting, and enhancements to facilities such as maximizing fresh air, air filter replacement, and supplementary cleaning. To further mitigate the risk of transmission, these steps will be combined with comprehensive surveillance testing and rapid contact tracing.

Students, faculty, and staff coming to Columbia from states with high prevalence of COVID-19 or from outside the U.S. are required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. This is New York State’s current policy and the only exceptions are essential workers, including health care workers. Also subject to the 14-day quarantine requirement are individuals identified as being a close contact of someone with COVID-19.

All Columbia students, faculty, and staff returning to campus will be required to sign the Columbia Community Health Compact agreeing to follow prescribed public health protocols, as well as agreeing to participate in Columbia’s testing program. Testing is mandatory. The testing program does not require out-of-pocket costs or insurance billing. All test results will be confidential and provided in a timely manner, ideally within 24-48 hours of specimen collection. Testing will be minimally intrusive and convenient for individuals being tested.

All students, faculty, and staff will have an initial “gateway” SARS-CoV-2 test when arriving on campus. Such testing has been in place for individuals returning to campus as of June 22, 2020 and will continue for all returning affiliates throughout the summer and fall as campus operations resume.

With respect to ongoing testing, all undergraduate students, and any graduate student residing in a traditional dormitory will initially receive a SARS-CoV-2 test on a weekly basis. The frequency of the testing will be re-evaluated over time in view of the status of the epidemic in New York City and the campus.

All faculty, staff, and graduate students, after their initial testing, will be randomly sampled for COVID-19, with an initial cohort of 5% each week during the semester; this frequency and sample size will be adapted based on key COVID-19 indicators.

Contact tracing is the essential counterpart to testing. Individuals who are diagnosed with COVID-19 will be asked about people with whom they have had close contact (as defined by the CDC) while they may have been infectious. Without revealing the identity of the person diagnosed with COVID-19, we will notify these contacts of their potential exposure and ask them to self-quarantine for 14 days.

The University’s new health protocols for testing, tracing, quarantine, and isolation provides detailed guidance on each of these new elements of campus life.

In health,

Melanie Bernitz, MD, MPH

Associate Vice President and Medical Director, Columbia Health       

Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine (in the Center for Family and Community Medicine)