January Health Advisory for the Columbia Community

January 19, 2021

Dear Columbia community members, 

Welcome to a new year at Columbia. As we begin the Spring Term, this email provides some important reminders and updates as we navigate the continuing pandemic together as a community. 

What You Need to Know Now 

The COVID-19 virus continues to spread at an alarming rate, along with newly detected variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. While there is promise with vaccination efforts underway, we must continue to remain vigilant with our preventative measures. 

  • What is the status of the virus in NYC and on campus? We are in a surge with an increased number of daily cases globally, nationally, and locally. We continue to carefully monitor the situation on campus through the Columbia Testing Program. The data on our Columbia positivity can be found online
  • What do I need to know about the new virus variants? Scientists are working to learn more about the mutations identified in the new variants and how they are transmitted. Evidence suggests they may spread more easily, which means we must re-double our current efforts to stop transmission through the fundamental public health measures that we know work. To date, there is no evidence that these variants cause more severe illness or increased risk of death. Investigations are ongoing to determine whether currently authorized vaccines in the US will protect people against them. Read more from the CDC.  
  • What should I do? It is as critical as ever to practice preventative measures you know well: wear a mask, maintain six feet of distance between yourself and others, socialize sparingly and safely, and wash or sanitize your hands frequently. Continue to follow health and safety guidelines outlined in the Columbia Community Compact on and off campus. Participate in testing and stay home if you are not feeling well. 

Changes in Exposure Quarantine Requirements 

New York State recently announced it would adopt the CDC’s revised guidelines for quarantine requirement following a COVID-19 exposure. Individuals who quarantine for 10 days after an exposure and do not exhibit symptoms can end their quarantine after day 10. Read more about the updated quarantine guidelines. This is distinct from New York State travel-related quarantine requirements. 

Testing is Critical to Reduce Outbreaks 

As previously communicated, all Columbia faculty, staff, and students on campus must complete a Spring Term gateway test, as well as participate in regular testing thereafter, with testing requirement and frequency of testing based on affiliate category. This is critical to ensure cases are detected early and stopped from spreading further. Please do not miss your regular testing appointment. Read more about the testing program on the COVID-19 website. Keep in mind that frequent testing does complement all other public health preventive measures, but does not obviate the need for them. 

Vaccination Efforts Underway, Additional Phases to Come 

As part of New York State’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, Phase 1a, the first patient-facing healthcare workers in our community, began to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in mid-December, and now some of those in Phase 1b, including those 65 or older and in-person college instructors, are eligible to be vaccinated. Please note, Columbia does not have access to the vaccine allocation at this time, so vaccination of eligible individuals in the above categories needs to take place at other locations. As the federal and state plans continue to evolve, we will share more information about additional phases for vaccine distribution and the available locations, as well as updates on future availability of vaccines at Columbia. Until then, see the helpful FAQs on the COVID-19 website. 

As a reminder, the Columbia safety protocols, including wearing a face covering, physical distancing, and participating in the Columbia Testing Program, remain in effect, whether or not you are vaccinated.  

Stay Safe and Be Well! 

Continue to abide by the University requirements outlined and follow health best practices. Remember the little things you can do to stay healthy – like getting the influenza vaccine. It’s not too late to get your flu shot if you haven’t already done so. For students accessing campus, this is mandatory, so please contact Columbia Health (Morningside) or Student Health on Haven (CUIMC) if you still need your flu vaccine.  

Thank you for your continued efforts during this challenging time. Best wishes as we begin this new term and may it lead to brighter days for us all. 

With care for our community, 

Melanie J. Bernitz, MD, MPH
Associate Vice President & Medical Director, Columbia Health
Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine (in the Center for Family and Community Medicine)