Important Updates on Required, Voluntary, and Travel-Related COVID-19 Testing

November 18, 2020

Dear Fellow Members of the Columbia Community,  

As you may have seen on the University COVID-19 dashboard, we continue to test thousands of people per week and have an overall low positivity rate, though the number of positive tests have increased.  I write today to provide you an update on the COVID-19 testing program.   

Gateway Testing Required for First Time Campus Access 

Anyone who has not yet completed Columbia’s gateway testing requirement and is accessing campus facilities must obtain gateway testing as soon as possible. This includes anyone who had testing elsewhere but not through Columbia’s gateway testing program. Register for this gateway test online. If you are not sure whether you have properly completed your testing requirement, please review your ReOpenCU app, and if you do not have a check next to “I have met the University’s COVID-19 testing requirements”, you must obtain gateway testing as soon as possible. Note that effective November 18, 2020 only testing scheduled online at the University surveillance testing sites will meet this requirement and testing conducted at NYP or other locations will not be accepted.   

Please Comply with Surveillance Testing Request to Help Stop the Spread 

Ongoing surveillance is essential to understand the campus prevalence of COVID-19. If you are selected for the weekly random surveillance test, it is important that you complete this test so we have an accurate and up-to-date understanding of the situation on our campuses. Because new samples are generated weekly you may get selected more than once and it is critical to get tested each time you are selected. 

Voluntary Testing Now Available 

In addition to the ongoing surveillance testing program the University has increased options to include weekly voluntary testing for those accessing campus regularly.  For voluntary testing you simply select the “voluntary testing” option when scheduling online.  Voluntary testing is currently available at the William Black Building (CUIMC) and Lerner Hall (Morningside) locations. 

Travel-Related Departure and Return Testing Available 

While we continue to recommend avoiding non-essential travel, for those needing testing for travel-related purposes, especially around the holidays, we will support this testing through our testing sites, and you have a travel option to select when scheduling online.   

Outbound travelers should note that most results are received within 72 hours.  If you are travelling during Thanksgiving or the Winter Break we recommend that you have a test and receive a negative result before departing. 

Returning travelers, who wish to shorten the New York State required quarantine must: 

  • Have been tested in the 72 hours before you leave the state or country outside of New York (except for contiguous states); 
  • Quarantine upon arrival in New York until day 4; 
  • Be tested on day 4 or the next business day (if day 4 is on a weekend); and  
  • Return to quarantine until a negative second test is received.   

In general, you should plan for at least seven days of quarantine.  If you did not have a test in the 72 hours before departure you must quarantine for the full 14 days per New York State requirements. 

Additional Testing Sites Added 

We have added limited capacity for gateway and random surveillance testing at Tarrytown (twice monthly), Lamont (twice monthly) and 51st Street (weekly).  These sites are designed to support members of our community that work in Columbia facilities not on the CUIMC, Manhattanville, or Morningside campuses.  Voluntary and travel-related testing are not currently available at these sites. Availability at these sites can be found when scheduling online.   

Contact Your Campus Health Service or Primary Care Provider for Symptomatic Testing 

Please note that the University testing sites in the William Black Building, Lerner Hall, Tarrytown, 51st Street, and Lamont cannot be used for individuals with symptoms.  Students with symptoms should contact their campus medical service.  Faculty and staff with symptoms should contact their primary care provider or an urgent care center.  If you arrive at a University surveillance testing site with symptoms you will be redirected to an appropriate alternate resource. This is for the safety of the staff and others visiting the testing sites. 

Spring Term 2021 New Testing Program Details 

The new spring term plan, which commences January 4, 2021, can be found online. The features of spring term testing include expanded testing as follows: 

  • All members of the community will be required to have a new spring term 2021 gateway test through the University program in order to access campus facilities beginning January 4, 2021. 
  • Ongoing surveillance testing will include: 
    • Required twice-weekly testing for undergraduate students living on campus. 
    • Required weekly random sampling of graduate students, faculty, and staff. 
    • Strongly recommended weekly testing for all graduate and professional students, and undergraduate students living off campus. 
    • Strongly recommended weekly testing for faculty and staff accessing campus two or more days per week. 
    • Continuation of wastewater surveillance for residential undergraduate buildings on the Morningside campus. 
  • Availability of weekly voluntary testing for faculty and staff who regularly access campus and do not fall into the above criteria. 
  • Travel-related testing (as described above). 

We thank you for your continuing commitment to participating in the University testing program and steps you take each and every day to keep our community safe.   

With care for our community,  

Melanie J. Bernitz, MD, MPH 

Associate Vice President & Medical Director, Columbia Health and Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine (in the Center for Family and Community Medicine)