Return to Campus: Safety Measures

August 18, 2020

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community,

Fall term is just around the corner. Members in our graduate and professional schools are beginning their return to Morningside Heights and Washington Heights, joining substantial cohorts who have resumed clinical training and have returned to laboratory research. Disappointingly, we cannot yet restore the ordinary residential life of undergraduates in Columbia College and SEAS who live in our campus dormitories. In all other respects, our campuses will be open and vibrant, with adjustments to facilities, robust safety precautions, and a culture of care and compliance making it prudent to resume a significant majority of our activities. An important symbol and practical reality will be the measured reopening of our libraries at the end of this month.

Overall, our local and regional public health news is positive. New York City and its metropolitan area arguably are now the safest locations in the country. Over the course of the past weeks, the pandemic situation has remained stable, with a very modest number of new cases. The proportion of the population testing positively, and the transmission rate, are presently at a gratifyingly low level.

All the more reason affiliates who will be on campus—staff, students, faculty—must observe the requirements we underscored on July 23. The COVID-19 Resource Guide for the Columbia Community will continue to provide the most up-to-date information as campus density grows systematically and carefully.

Please know that you must comply with the following obligations as you rejoin life on campus:   

  1. Enhanced Health and Safety Policy: This policy has been established as a first-line of protection. It requires community members to wear face coverings, maintain physical distancing, and follow other public health policies. Distribution of face coverings (two per affiliate) is being accomplished through the University’s testing centers and the schools.
  2. The Columbia Health Compact: The Compact, which incorporates many of the elements of the Enhanced Health and Safety Policy, must be signed via an electronic link as part of the required return to campus protocols. It is a reciprocal pledge of mutual responsibility and observance. The University commits to work assiduously to keep the campus safe through enhanced facility cleaning and sanitizing procedures and other protocols. In turn, each affiliate undertakes to follow relevant rules in the interest both of individual and collective health. The link to the Columbia Health Compact can be found on your daily symptom check app (see below) or here.
  3. Safety training: The training program must be completed before a return to campus. It can be found here.
  4. Self-quarantine: Any person arriving from New York-designated states or territories or from the CDC-designated international destinations must self-quarantine as required by New York State. See How to Quarantine: A Guide for CUIMC Students and list of designated states or territories.
  5. Testing for SARS-COV-2: Since June 22, all returning faculty, staff, and students, now numbering more than 2,700, have been given a free “gateway” PCR test for SARS-COV-2. As of Monday, August 17, this testing has been significantly expanded at two Columbia locations—Lerner Hall on the Morningside campus and the Black Building on the CUIMC campus. Repeat testing for students and an ongoing sampling approach for faculty and staff is part of the testing program. Testing and tracing details can be found here.
  6. Daily symptom check: ReopenCU, a symptom self-checking app, has been in operation successfully for two months. This attestation is required by the State of New York. Beginning this week, accessibility to all buildings with security guards or where access is dependent on the Lenel badge, will be tied not only to the completion of the symptom self-check but also to the completion of training and signing of the Columbia Health Compact.
  7. Contact Tracing: We have established a University Contact Tracing Program that will provide evaluation of any affiliate who tests positive for SARS-CoV-2, elicitation and follow-up of all close contacts and provision of information and on-going support for all isolated and quarantined individuals. The testing and tracing details can be found here.

As we look forward to renewing campus life, including in-classroom and hybrid teaching, we know that many affiliates will be conducting their scholarly activities and work remotely. Yet even persons only on campus occasionally must adhere to these seven sets of safety measures. Columbia, we might add, has invested substantially to reduce density in classrooms and other spaces, add technology to improve pedagogy, provide outdoor tents for gatherings, make modifications to dining, and fashion significant improvements to heating and ventilation systems, restrooms, and public spaces. Further, an “ambassador corps” of students, faculty, and staff will be on hand, and various hotlines are being instituted to provide relevant information and assistance.

We have also prepared a video that conveys the excitement we have about the safe return to campus, which can be found here.

Finally, to facilitate movement back and forth to campus, the University is pleased to announce the introduction of a shuttle service for Columbia faculty and staff working on site. The service will begin in mid-late September and will operate through four boroughs—Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. The fare will be $4.50 each way, and the shuttles will make convenient stops continuously throughout the day. More details are forthcoming, and will be found on the Transportation website, here.

Our watchword is safety first. The steps we all are taking will make it possible to reintroduce the activities we cherish at the University. We eagerly look forward to this renewal and thank you for helping to make it possible.

Appreciatively,

Ira Katznelson, Interim Provost and Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History

Donna Lynne, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Columbia University Irving Medical Center and Chief Executive Officer of ColumbiaDoctors and University COVID Director