Campus Health and Safety Under Rising Citywide COVID Rates

November 13, 2020

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community

A moment of uncertainty and concern: The COVID-19 epidemic has become more pervasive. In recent days, the daily number of new cases in the United States has reached 140,000, and the number of deaths attributable to COVID-19 is increasing rapidly. We also are witnessing distressing spikes across much of the globe.

Our local situation is distinctive. Largely due to remarkable efforts by New Yorkers, notably including members of the Columbia community, the state and the city have fared much better than the rest of the country since March and April. This success is now in peril. During the past few weeks, the daily number of cases in our city has steadily increased, exceeding the threshold established by the Mayor’s Office that triggers additional precautions. This acceleration has moved hand-in-hand with an increase in SARS-CoV-2 positive test results, having shifted from less than 1% to 2.3%. Some neighborhoods have experienced substantially higher positivity rates.

Initially, concern focused on these specific and limited locations. Recent evidence, by contrast, indicates an increase in positive results across a significantly larger area. Even on our campus, arguably one of the safest locations in New York City, the Columbia Testing Program has seen an increase in positivity during the past week, from 0.11% to 0.34%, a small but worrying shift. 

These trends compel us to redouble efforts to abide by our code of safe behavior. We know that the following actions effectively help prevent the transmission of SARS-CoV-2:  

  1. Adhere to all components of the Columbia Compact.
  2. Wear face coverings or masks consistently and constantly and physically distance, both indoors and outdoors.
  3. Maintain safe distancing during work breaks and meals, times when masks might be removed.
  4. Limit social gatherings, never exceeding 10 individuals, and always maintaining recommended distancing and face covering. Observe safety measures during Thanksgiving and holiday gatherings.
  5. Abide by circumscribed travel rules.
  6. Comply with regulations restricting access to campus by non-Columbia visitors.

Testing is a critical component of the University’s strategy. Appointments can be scheduled easily for mandatory gateway or travel testing or if you are selected as part of our random sampling program. In addition, voluntary asymptomatic testing is available to members of the Columbia community who do not have a testing requirement. Please know that mandatory gateway testing will be enforced ever more rigorously starting on November 16; access to campus buildings will be limited to persons who have completed this requirement.

Public health and safety are a personal and collective good. We are counting on each of you to adhere to these standards. Our campus Safety Coordinators and Student Ambassadors are here to assist. Together, we can secure the hard-won gains that, to date, have controlled COVID-19 in our city and at the University.

With appreciation,

Ira Katznelson
Interim Provost
Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History

Anil K. Rustgi
Interim Executive Vice President and Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine