University COVID Update: Travel and Safety

October 29, 2020

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community,

We write with a number of significant updates about the month just ahead of us, a time that spans the rite of Election Day, a University holiday, and the tradition of Thanksgiving, each a distinctive source of concern.

These breaks from the routines of academic life ordinarily are times marked by travel and opportunities to gather with family and friends. Of course, we are in a time like no other. Unfortunately, we continue to witness rising COVID-19 case rates across the country. Here in New York, Governor Cuomo has issued mandatory quarantine orders of 14 days for persons traveling to New York from up to 41 states as well as international locations. He also has taken note of rising case rates in New Jersey and Connecticut, two states that have not been placed on the mandatory quarantine list solely because their borders with New York are permeable, with multiple entry points. This week, Mayor de Blasio asked New York City residents not to travel for Thanksgiving in order to minimize the risk of spreading the virus further within the city.

Thus, we strongly urge you to limit travel. Undergraduates currently living in Columbia’s dormitories must take particular care. Should you decide to leave campus during Election Day weekend or the Thanksgiving holiday, there will be limited opportunities to quarantine on campus. In the next several days, your school will be communicating with you regarding the application process for placement in quarantine housing upon your return. Should this service be granted, you will be required to quarantine for two weeks and have a SARS-CoV-2 test within 48 hours of your return. Please stay safe. No matter your location, we urge you to gather outside where possible, and adhere to physical distancing, face covering, and other safety protocols. We also recommend that if you leave campus for Thanksgiving, you get tested before you depart from Columbia, especially if you will be participating in any indoor gatherings or sharing living quarters with persons at risk for complications from COVID-19.

In addition to the continuation of Columbia’s testing program—encompassing gateway, sampling, and undergraduate surveillance testing, as well as the voluntary testing pilot program for graduate students, staff, and faculty announced a month ago—we encourage you to take note of an app recently launched by New York State that generates an alert if you have been in close contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19. This app is voluntary and anonymous.

As the University continues to plan for the spring, we are deeply grateful for the robust responses sent by students to surveys already circulated, and we thank other students in advance for replying to instruments that were just mailed by your schools this week. These surveys have revealed rich information about this term and aspirations for the next. The responses provided will inform the series of judgments presently being considered about the composition of the campus and the modes of instruction that will characterize the spring term. Over the coming weeks, a series of announcements will be made, just as soon as circumstances allow. Thanks for your patience as the deans, members of our faculties, senior administrators, and public health experts work together to craft a safe and vital campus.

Sending best wishes,

Ira Katznelson
Interim Provost
Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History

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