Updated COVID-19 Guidance

December 20, 2021

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community,

As you are undoubtedly aware, there is a substantial increase in the number of COVID-19 cases now being reported in New York City and New York State.  Not surprisingly, we have also experienced a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and test positivity reported among our Columbia affiliates over the past week as will be posted on the Columbia COVID-19 website. It is likely that this increase is largely due to the Omicron variant, which has resulted in a sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in other countries. We have to date no reports of any severe cases requiring hospitalizations among Columbia affiliates.

Available information indicates that this new variant is more transmissible than prior virus variants based on the rates of increase in total numbers of cases. At the same time, early data suggest that it may result in less severe illness. This is based on information from South Africa and the United Kingdom, two countries that have experienced a substantial increase in the number of cases, but where hospitalizations have not risen at a rate commensurate with the increase in cases and have remained below the level of hospitalizations noted with prior surges. 

At Columbia, we are fortunate that we have in place several measures that will be critically important in stemming transmission. Most importantly, Columbia is a fully-vaccinated community. Data from New York City continue to show much lower COVID-19 case and hospitalization rates among vaccinated individuals relative to those who are unvaccinated. In addition, data from nursing homes in the US show the protective effect of vaccination and demonstrate the additional benefit of booster doses. Early data also indicate that booster doses are likely to offer protection against the Omicron variant. Lastly, our universal indoor masking mandate remains in place offering further protection, combined with our daily attestation system and the robust testing program we have in place. 

Nonetheless, in view of the increase in the number of cases in our community and our city, the following measures will be put in place as of Monday, December 20:

  • All Columbia-related social gatherings on and off campus require special approval.
  • Only grab-and-go food will be available, with the exception of dining services for residential students remaining on campus.
  • All affiliates are urged to avoid social gatherings wherever they are located, unless all attendees are fully vaccinated.
  • Stay home if you have symptoms, and seek testing at locations that offer symptomatic testing.
  • We urge wearing of masks indoors in all public settings as well as in crowded settings when outdoors.
  • Get tested if you become aware that you were in contact with a case; if you have attended a gathering that may have facilitated transmission; or if you have recently travelled domestically or internationally. 
  • Get a booster dose as soon as possible (consistent with the recently announced Columbia booster mandate).

We refer you to our prior message sent on December 14 which provides details regarding the availability of booster doses and testing venues for our affiliates.

We will continue to monitor the rapidly evolving situation and provide ongoing updates to our community.

Sincerely

Donna Lynne, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, CUIMC, and University COVID Director

Gerry Rosberg, Senior Executive Vice President