June 17, 2021: Return to Campus: Policies and Procedures

Dear Fellow Members of the Columbia Community,

Resilience is the product of hardiness and flexibility. Just these qualities have characterized how staff, students, faculty, and researchers have navigated the past fifteen months. Overall, this has been a period of loss and sacrifice, many personal and institutional difficulties, and no small amount of exhaustion. And yet, with care and consideration, we are on the cusp of restoring our campuses to vibrant density. 

There is much for which to be grateful: above all, the persistence of relative safety at a time of danger. The leadership of our epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists, virologists, and modelers has been invaluable. With a blend of personal and virtual teaching, thousands of students have continued their education. Critical inquiry, exceptional work by faculty and staff, pioneering research, responsive libraries, and persistent, courageous, and effective work by our health care colleagues have produced memorable hallmarks. 

We have reached a welcome point of inflection. Turning to the impending full return this fall, we are delighted to share the policies and procedures that will govern that renewal, the first signs of which have been experienced this spring. As we write, our campus dormitories are fully subscribed for the fall, about to return to capacity. Registration for classes starting in September has been proceeding briskly. And now, the combination of our own vaccine mandate and this week’s announcement by Governor Cuomo that 70 percent of adult New Yorkers have been vaccinated with at least one dose allows us to expect to relax many, indeed most, restrictions this fall. Of course, such confidence must remain provisional, depending on the continuation of an improving public health situation. Still, the sense of optimism is palpable.

With advice from the deans and other senior leaders, with proposals from the working groups that have navigated the crisis, with adjudication by President Bollinger and the President’s COVID-19 Task Force, the following policies have been crafted regarding instruction, the use of space, the scale of gatherings, travel, visitors, PCR testing, and the vaccination’s requirement. While we are primarily focused on requirements for the fall, in several cases, as noted below, there is a multi-stage phase-in from now until August 2, from August 3 until September 8, and then the final stage commencing on September 9.

  1. Fall instruction: As previously announced, faculty and students will meet in person for all class sessions. Classrooms will be at full capacity. Notwithstanding, with many international students facing visa-related delays, every effort will be made by our academic programs to offer virtual access to many classes. Having learned much during the pandemic about the use of technology for teaching, faculty are encouraged to use digital tools to enhance their face-to-face teaching where appropriate. With the limited exception of pre-established online courses, all classes will be conducted face-to-face in campus classrooms. Additional details about the new classroom instruction policy can be found in the Fall 2021 Instruction Guidelines.
  2. Space: Subject to public health arrangements specified below, every space on campus— not just classrooms, but the gym and the chapel, places for student activities, faculty offices, and administrative units— can be fully utilized this fall. Instruction, campus scholarly activities (including research and library access), as well as student life, will have the highest priority. By contrast, most conferences and external speaker series will remain virtual through the fall. Additional details about the new space policy can be found in the Space Use Guidelines for Fall 2021.
  3. Face coverings and physical distancing: Changes in face coverings and physical distancing will be phased in over three periods. Face coverings indoors and physical distancing will continue to be required until August 2, even for vaccinated individuals, though they are no longer necessary outdoors for those who have been vaccinated. From August 3 to September 8, face coverings indoors will continue to be required for all, but the indoor distancing requirement will be relaxed for vaccinated individuals only. Unvaccinated individuals will continue to be required to wear face coverings and physically distance. Finally, beginning September 9, when we will have achieved a fully vaccinated status, face coverings and distancing no longer will be required on the non-medical campuses, except for persons who have received a vaccine exemption. Face coverings on the CUIMC campus will continue through the first quarter of 2022. And a cautionary word: No judgments should be made and no criticisms offered regarding individuals who continue to use face coverings, either because they have vaccine exemptions or simply choose to continue to cover their face as a matter of personal preference. Additional details on these matters can be found under Face Coverings and PPE in the COVID-19 Public Health Protocols.
  4. Gathering size and events policy: Changes in gathering size will be phased in over three periods. Currently, there are no limits on the size for academic (instructional, orientation, and commencement) gatherings provided that the provisions just enumerated are followed until September 9. Administrative and research gatherings presently permit up to 500 individuals outdoors and 250 indoors. There will be no capacity limits after August 2. It is important to note that any food and beverages sold on campus must be “grab and go” through September 8. For now, however, social, religious, and extra-curricular gatherings are restricted to 50 persons outdoors and 25 indoors, but only through August 2. Additional details about the new gathering size policy can be found in the updated Events Policy.
  5.  Fall visitors: Beginning September 9, the existing “no visitor” policy will be rescinded. Visiting and exchange students, visiting faculty, scholars, and scientists, among others, will be allowed back on campus. These visitors will be subject to University health and safety policies, including the vaccine mandate if on campus for more than four days, as well as required attestations. Still to be completed is a separate policy for contractors and vendors that will be announced soon. Additional details about the new visitor policy can be found in Visitor Guidelines for Fall 2021.
  6. Fall travel: The summer 2021 travel policy will remain in effect throughout the fall, with minor changes that affect undergraduates and graduate students. Undergraduate study abroad for the fall will not be allowed, but we anticipate a full resumption in the spring term. Additional details about the new travel policy can be found in these Fall 2021 Travel Restrictions

Especially with the return to higher density, campus safety will require continued vigilance. All members of our community will thus respect the following procedures and policies:

  1. Vaccine mandate: As previously announced, a vaccine mandate applies to all faculty, researchers, staff, and students. Completion of the steps necessary to comply with this mandate must be concluded by August 2. Students can register their compliance through the Columbia Health portal; faculty and staff may use the COVID-19 website or the ReopenCU app. Additional details about how to upload vaccine documentation can be found in these Vaccine Documentation Upload Instructions.
  2. ReopenCU app: We will continue to rely on this app to manage access to campus throughout the fall; therefore, we encourage all Columbia affiliates who have not done so already to download it and become familiar with its features. Through the app, every person accessing campus is required to attest to symptoms related to COVID-19 every day, without exception. Individuals who have not been on campus should download the ReopenCU app on their smartphone, or use the web link to do so. This app generates either a “green pass” or a “red pass” based on the answers that are offered by an individual and whether health requirements, notably including the vaccination requirement, have been met. Green is required for entry. You can find information about how to download the appon the COVID-19 site.   
  3. Testing: Anyone who has not accessed campus since January 2021 is required to present themselves for a “gateway” test just prior to returning. Appointments can be made via the Columbia Health Online Patient Portal. Once such testing has been accomplished prior to September 9, weekly mandatory testing of unvaccinated affiliates and random sampling drawn from all affiliates on campus will continue into the fall semester. Additional details are included in the COVID-19 Testing Program for Fall 2021 Plan.   
  4. Columbia Compact: The terms of the existing Compact are being amended in light of the University’s revised policies, including the vaccine mandate. It thus will be necessary for all to use the ReopenCU app to re-sign this pledge between July 6 and August 16. Additional details can be found in the newly revised Columbia Community Health Compact

With these ten sets of policies, it will be possible to prepare for and proceed toward the fall term with an energetic renewal. Though the pandemic is not yet defeated, by acting responsibly together, we can maintain safety while getting closer to a familiar and more customary campus life. That will be a cause for satisfaction, even celebration.

Sending thanks with anticipation,

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