Here’s an overview of the gradual reopening of campus for Spring 2021.
Though campus is gradually opening on a very limited basis, for Spring 2021, many more campus facilities are partially or fully reopened compared to Fall 2020. Bwog asked Columbia Health about certain aspects of campus reopening policies in order to gain more insight into the process behind reopening some areas of campus.
This semester, lounges in many buildings, including John Jay, are now open. In exchanges with Bwog, Columbia Health did not offer an explanation as to why the lounges were open this semester and not in the fall. They claimed that lounges were also open last semester, despite signs posted around, and now in, lounges this semester and last indicating the contrary.
While there are protocols for masking and distancing in lounges, the method for enforcing these protocols is not clear, given that students have reported observing their peers unmasked and/or not socially distant when not eating or drinking in the lounge. Recently, some lounges have begun to post signs indicating how many people may occupy tables. However, many of these signs were moved off of the tables they are intended to indicate capacity for, and there does not appear to be any meaningful enforcement of these occupancy limits.
Students who have tested positive for COVID-19, as well as students who have been identified as close contacts, are sent to Furnald Hall to quarantine, with contact traced and COVID-19 positive students housed on different floors. When Bwog reached out to Columbia Health for a statement, they claimed, “There is no evidence for the virus traveling between floors–just people. The separation by floors, particularly when very few students are in isolation or quarantine, is safe, regardless of the presence of new variants of the virus.” However, students on contact trace floors who test negative but exhibit symptoms—approximately 20% of tests are false negatives—remain on contact trace floors, giving rise to the possibility of transmission between people. This risk is somewhat more pronounced given that students on contact trace floors have access to their floor lounges.
Furthermore, the University stated, “Students in quarantine only leave their room to collect their meal, use the bathroom, or attend medical appointments.” However, numerous students who have occupied COVID-positive floors have reported to Bwog that residents of these floors can and do use their floor lounge.
Despite cases being higher than they were last semester, Columbia reopened Dodge on January 26. The University said that the strict protocols for distancing, masking, limiting capacity, and cleaning demonstrate that the gym is a low-risk source of transmission.
However, there are no regulations on what type of masks should be worn in Dodge. For example, masks with one-way valves are permitted, even though they do not prevent the release of droplets into the air. Though a mask requirement significantly reduces the risk posed by Dodge’s reopening, allowing masks that have been shown to be ineffective means that the mask requirement may be less effective than intended. Additionally, Bwog asked Columbia Health why it was possible to open Dodge this semester despite rising COVID-19 cases in the community, but this was not fully outlined in Columbia’s response to Bwog.
Columbia Communications stated that practice rooms are under the direction of the Music Department and the Music Performance Program (MPP). However, when asked for a statement, the MPP said that practice rooms in some dorms, such as Schapiro, are not available for use because the University established the dorm hall as a quarantine building before closing it. Thus, the practice spaces within spaces established as quarantine buildings have also been closed.
Practice space is available to students in the MPP who are enrolled in a class within the Music Department. They can schedule time to practice in 1-hour blocks in classrooms in Dodge Hall.
Though practice rooms in EC and Broadway are technically open, few students can access them. Only students who live in those respective buildings and already have a key to access practice rooms (new keys for practice rooms are not being distributed) can access the rooms. However, use of these rooms is strongly discouraged, as the MPP stated “[they] have no way to track names for contact tracing/COVID-19.”
Though the University noted that the opening of practice rooms is not at its discretion, it does control many of the factors inhibiting the reopening of practice rooms.
Since the fall semester, a small number of libraries have been opened on a limited basis, with a reservation system in place to ensure social distancing. Though most libraries will stay open with their current hours—currently, Butler and the Science and Engineering Library are open the latest, staying open until 9:00 pm from Sunday through Thursday—NoCo has been open until midnight from Sunday through Wednesday since March 7.
Columbia is establishing vaccination centers at 650 W 168th Street, 2702 Broadway, 2920 Broadway (Lerner Hall), and 51 W 51 Street to vaccinate essential in-person staff, and soon, staff and students who are eligible under New York State guidelines. As these sites begin to open and as eligibility opens up, students and staff can receive vaccines at these sites at no cost.
This Summer, a limited number of students will be able to live on campus. Students must be taking at least six academic credits, with the potential for some students who are doing research or have internships in the city to live in University housing as space permits. Students will reside on campus for the Summer A term or both the Summer A and B term; housing solely for the Summer B term will not be offered. Barnard students can choose to live in summer housing for either Summer A or Summer B or both. Barnard will prioritize in order housing for students taking three or more credits, housing for students who are part of the Summer Research Institute, housing for students with an on-campus local job or internship, and housing for other reasons.
It is somewhat unclear what Columbia is trying to achieve with certain reopening procedures. Opening cautiously makes sense: New York was hit hard at the beginning of the pandemic, and given the increasing presence of more infectious variants, caution seems logical.
But while some of Columbia’s policies seem diligently aimed at reducing the spread of the virus on campus, others fly directly in the face of caution. Areas of the university that would not be linked to increased transmission, such as libraries, have remained operational on extremely limited hours. Housing contact-traced students with COVID-19 positive students and not moving students who may have received a false negative is dangerous. But even as some of these policies seem to contradict each other, we are moving towards, in President Bollinger’s words, “our homecoming.”
Spring on campus via Bwog Archives