Update on Columbia’s Response to the Coronavirus

January 29, 2020

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

The University is closely monitoring information and expert national recommendations regarding the outbreak of a 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) first detected in Wuhan, China.

This outbreak is of considerable concern to all of us, and like any emerging infection should be approached with thoughtfulness, prudent prevention, and timely intervention. Based on national recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and our own Columbia infectious disease experts, we are glad to share information and advice to guide the Columbia community.

Please understand, however, that the University is being diligent, day by day, in assessing circumstances in tandem with leading health authorities and the practices of other institutions. As a result, we may update advice at any time as circumstances may change rapidly.

To date, there are no known cases in the New York area and no known cases concerning our students, faculty, staff, or affiliates. Presently, the immediate health risk to the Columbia community is therefore considered low.

In these circumstances, and following the recommendations of local, state, and national health authorities to make sure we are undertaking evidence-informed procedures, the University has not made changes to classes, activities, operations, and events on our New York campuses.

Here, we wish to convey current appraisals about symptoms and travel to and from China, taken directly from national sources such as the CDC.


As a reminder, symptoms of 2019-nCoV include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • shortness of breath

These symptoms may be similar to the flu or the common cold. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia and other complications, especially in infants, older individuals, and those with underlying health conditions. Medical offices are seeing many cases of influenza and other common respiratory illnesses in our students, faculty, and staff. Columbia clinicians and all physicians and staff who care for patients at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital have been informed of all recommended precautions and will screen any patient presenting with fever and respiratory symptoms for a recent travel history or contact with someone who has recently traveled.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 3 Travel Warning (the highest level of warning), urging all U.S. residents to avoid nonessential travel to China, and International SOS has advised travelers to consider deferring non-essential travel to mainland China.

Mindful both of the University’s service mission and of its need to safeguard against the 2019-nCoV threat, the University has determined to restrict student, faculty, and staff travel to China until the disease has run its course. Students will not receive credit or funding for activities involving travel there and student groups are not permitted to visit.

Any Columbia employee, faculty, or staff who wishes to travel to China for a compelling university-related reason must submit a written request to the appropriate dean. On approval by the dean, the request must then be sent to the Provost for review and final approval. Because of the travel restrictions in place within China, any such request must include confirmation of an evacuation plan. In addition, travelers will be required to comply with appropriate safety precautions and protocols as recommended by the CDC and other authorities. 

Columbia has communicated with all of its registered travelers in China and the surrounding areas and will continue to work with them as they make their way back to New York.



Returning affiliates and non-affiliate visitors from China are required to adhere to the following protocol. Compliance with University requirements described in this protocol does not supersede or replace recommendations emanating from city, state, or federal authorities. 

Returning travelers who have no symptoms 

Students who have been in China in the last 14 days and are concerned about their potential risk may contact their campus medical service: Morningside (212-854-7426) or CUIMC (212-305-3400) for an evaluation and recommendations. Faculty, staff, and visitors with concerns should contact their primary care provider or Columbia Health. While asymptomatic travelers are not required by the University to self-isolate, some are choosing to do so. If this is the case, these individuals should be in touch with their supervisor or academic advisor. In most cases, returning travelers can follow their ordinary daily activities.

Returning travelers with symptoms

Returning travelers from China who are experiencing the symptoms listed above should seek medical attention immediately. They should call ahead to their provider or the emergency room and let them know of their recent travel and symptoms. Columbia students, please contact your campus medical service: Morningside (212-854-7426) or CUIMC (212-305-3400). Faculty staff, and visitors, please contact your primary care provider or the nearest emergency room.


Columbia has published a series of FAQs around 2019-nCoV and will continue to update the website as needed. Please use these additional resources for more information:

Columbia Preparedness

World Health Organization (WHO) Information about Coronavirus

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Situation Summary

NYC Department of Health Information About Coronavirus

Finally, we know that many in our community may have family or friends affected by this outbreak. We encourage anyone who needs support during this time to contact Columbia Health’s Counseling and Psychological Services, CUIMC’s Mental Health Services, or the Office of the University Chaplain.


Ira Katznelson
Interim Provost
Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History

Lee Goldman
Harold and Margaret Hatch Professor
Executive Vice President and Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine