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Columbia Cancels Class To Facilitate Move To Online Classes

Barnard and Columbia classes have been canceled Monday March 9 and Tuesday March 10, with remote classes beginning Wednesday March 11, after a student was reported to have been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case, according to emails sent to students by Presidents Bollinger and Beilock tonight.

This comes after a night of confusion in a campus fraternity, according to an email from the president to the rest of the organization, which Bwog has received from an anonymous source. In the email, the president noted that several brothers in the fraternity house have been in “close contact” with a student whose parents have been confirmed to have COVID-19; the student has been in contact with his mother as recently as last weekend. The student has not yet tested positive for COVID-19 himself, and may not have it all. President Bollinger noted in his email to students that the student has been placed under quarantine as a precautionary measure. All the statements from Columbia administration have stressed that class cancellations have been enacted to prioritize the health and safety of the student body. 

The fraternity president’s email went on to note that administrators gave fraternity members conflicting information on what procedures they should take when they reached out about their concerns. Allegedly, some administrators advised brothers in the house to self-isolate, while others said the members of the house should proceed as normal, and several “on-call” administrators didn’t respond to their request for information. Confusion over COVID-19 quarantine procedures has been an issue at the University since cases of the virus first began appearing, particularly when Barnard students from high-risk areas were self-isolating in early February.

To be clear, at the time of this article’s publication, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at Columbia and the university is not ordering anyone from the associated fraternity house to self-isolate. As of 11:00 AM March 8, there are 106 total cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the state of New York. 12 of them are in New York City. According to the CDC, the virus is thought to spread from person-to-person through close contact and airborne droplets containing the virus when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is also possible to transmit the virus through shared contact with surfaces that have the virus on it. Some asymptomatic individuals may also be able to transmit the virus, but much is unknown about the virus’ capability to spread through asymptomatic carriers. 

In response to this development, Columbia and Barnard have elected to cancel classes Monday and Tuesday to allow the University time to transition to virtual classes, which will take place at least until the start of spring break this Friday. Midterms exams will either be suspended or in take-home format. Though classes are canceled, other campus operations, including research, will continue. All dining halls will offer to-go options for students and high touch areas will continue to be disinfected regularly. This cancelation follows in the footsteps of schools such as the University of Washington and Stanford who have already made adjustments to their classes and exams. UW had already decided to make changes before any cases were confirmed due to the school’s proximity to the outbreak in Washington State, while Stanford made its decision following a confirmed case of a faculty member.

Prior to President Bollinger’s email, professors had been making decisions on class meetings at their own discretion. Columbia has canceled Days on Campus and other admitted student events, and students studying abroad in high-risk areas are being repatriated. University-sponsored travel over spring break, both international and domestic, has been canceled. Columbia has also strongly encouraged student groups to cancel any event of more than 25 people as a part of its social distancing efforts. In order to keep constantly updating information centralized, the university has created a coronavirus page on its website with any information detailing policies regarding classes and events. In addition, Columbia Health’s COVID-19 phone hotline will be available starting tomorrow Monday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm at (212)-854-9355.

The nation is currently experiencing much hardship in testing people for COVID-19. Limited capacities of laboratories available to conduct tests and limited test kits available make it extremely difficult to determine the true size of the outbreak in the United States. As of Sunday, March 8, 2020, the number of domestic cases is 521, with 33 states and the District of Columbia reporting confirmed cases. The CDC recommends washing one’s hands for at least 20 seconds, avoiding touching one’s face, staying away from the sick, and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces as measures of protection. 

President Bollinger’s statement:

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

I am writing this evening to notify everyone that, because a member of our community has been quarantined as a result of exposure to the Coronavirus (COVID-19), we have decided to suspend classes on Monday and Tuesday. This suspension of activities will allow us to prepare to shift to remote classes for the remainder of the week. I want to emphasize that the individual who has been quarantined has not been diagnosed at this point with the virus. 

Please understand that the decision to suspend classes does not mean that the University is shutting down. All non-classroom activities, including research, will continue in accordance with the new travel and events restrictions announced recently. At this point, just to restate what is important to know, we do not have a confirmed case of the virus on campus. This action is intended to prevent the virus from spreading. 

This message will soon be followed by more specific information from deans and other University leaders, including plans for remote instruction beginning Wednesday and continuing until the start of Spring Break on Friday.

Let me say how much we appreciate the efforts of everyone who is helping us work our way through this challenging situation and your understanding and attention. As always, we are especially committed to providing updates as we have more information and recommendations. 


Lee C. Bollinger


President Beilock’s statement:

Dear Barnard Community,

It has been a difficult several weeks as we follow the progress of COVID-19 around the globe, in the United States and here in New York City. 

My leadership team and I have been working closely with Columbia University and the New York State and City Departments of Health with the shared priority of upholding the health and safety of our community. As such, we are following the directive of Columbia below in suspending classes on Monday and Tuesday and moving to remote classes through the end of the week before spring break. 

As President Bollinger’s message says (see below), we are taking this action because a member of the Columbia community has been isolated as a result of exposure to COVID-19. This individual has not been diagnosed with the virus at this point. Moreover, no Barnard student, faculty or staff member has been diagnosed with COVID-19. It is important to know that our actions are out of an abundance of caution. 

Like Columbia, Barnard’s campus is not shutting down. Libraries, Barnard Dining, Primary Care Health Service, the Furman Counseling Center, the Barnard Fitness Center and all other services remain open. However, in an effort to minimize close contact among groups of people, we are cancelling all events and gatherings at Barnard through the end of spring break. All Fitbear classes are also suspended through spring break. We are also suspending our in-person admissions tours and information sessions until further notice. 

For students, I know many of you have midterms this week. Faculty have been asked to suspend these exams or administer them in take-home format. Faculty will be in touch with class-specific information. Because there will be no in-person classes, students  do not need to remain on campus at this point; however, we understand that some will choose to remain on campus through spring break. The residence halls and other student services remain open. Barnard students planning to stay on campus during spring break should complete this Spring Break Staycation Form so we can ensure appropriate services are available during the break.

Faculty will hear directly from Provost Bell with more information about class continuation procedures through the week. Both Provost Bell and I thank the faculty in advance for all that they are doing to be flexible in offering their classes on-line and in accommodating students and their specific concerns and requirements.

Staff will hear shortly from Vice Presidents Di Benedetto and Geddis with guidance regarding any impact this could have on your roles and responsibilities. As always, your dedication to the Barnard community continues to impress me and I am thankful for all that you do.

Please see COVID-19 Guidance for the Barnard College Community for the most up-to-date COVID-19 Guidance for the Barnard Community. We ask that you check back often as this website is updated as information becomes available.

We all share the goal of upholding the health and safety of our community and we ask for your consideration and caring of each other during this difficult time.

With care,

President Sian Leah Beilock

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  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous All study abroad and foreign travel must be cancelled for students and faculty for the remainder of 2020. Students should be discouraged to travel over break. No visitors should be allowed on campus.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous These students should have been quarantined immediately and should not be allowed on campus until tested and fourteen days have passed.

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