What exactly is the “green zone”, and how do we get there? CCSC compares Columbia’s current COVID-19 testing procedures to those of peer institutions.

After E-Board and Task Force updates, the first and most significant item on this week’s CCSC agenda concerned undergraduate COVID-19 testing policies and procedures. President Rads Mehta (CC ’22) gave a brief overview of Columbia’s current testing policy for undergraduates, which includes the recent implementation of 25% of the population being randomly selected for testing each week. To help CCSC members better understand how Columbia’s testing procedures match up with peer institutions, President Mehta shared testing policies and procedures from several other universities. For example, Yale provides six locations on campus for undergrads to get tested weekly, while Harvard students are tested three times a week via drop-off testing, allowing students to get tested in their residence halls and drop their tests off at numerous locations on campus. A bit closer to home, President Mehta noted that NYU tests weekly and adopts a similar type of drop-off test policy to Harvard. She also included Penn and MIT in her comparison, two institutions that have weekly testing for undergraduates. 

Before asking for suggestions on how to improve testing policies, President Mehta emphasized the less than ideal situation of Columbia’s current process. Currently, many students who are randomly selected for testing have difficulty booking an appointment, and even once an appointment is booked, they cannot be sure whether their wait time will be five or 40 minutes. VP Krishna Menon (CC ’22) offered that currently, 25% of undergraduates are randomly selected for testing each week and that it is unclear what percentage of faculty are selected, but an increase in testing for both groups could be beneficial. Representative Wesley Schmidt (CC’22) theorized that most students would be in favor of more testing if it opened up the possibility for event caps to be lifted, but the student body would need to see appropriate changes reflected in the University’s policies concerning indoor and outdoor capacities. President Mehta agreed and said that when we transition from our current yellow zone to a green zone, we will likely begin to see substantial changes to current restrictions. To clarify, Columbia uses four colors to indicate risk levels, ranging from red which indicates a higher risk to orange and yellow that indicate high and low risk, to green which indicates lower risk. Schmidt then asked if Columbia has shared what number of cases would put the University into the green zone, to which there was no clear answer. 

FLI Students Representative Jaine Archambeau (CC’22) shared her frustration with the way that testing is currently operating, noting that there is a clear gap in understanding on what exactly the green zone is. Archambeau also asked whether the green zone policy tool is based on New York City or Columbia statistics, arguing that more transparency should be required of the University to make those distinctions clear. She also stated that adopting policies similar to our peer institutions, where testing is quicker and easier, should be doable at this institution as well. Archambeau doubled down on this statement, saying “If everybody (faculty, staff, CC, SEAS) and all of the schools are getting tested in Lerner at one location—then that’s a problem. If they can do pop-up dining, they can do pop-up testing in my opinion.” Archambeau’s sentiments were echoed by VP Communications Tejasri Vijayakumar (CC ’24) who agreed that there needs to be more than just one location on campus to get tested and suggested that the University consider adopting the Harvard drop-off testing model. Class of 2022 VP Arya Rao (CC ’22) noted that one of the reasons Harvard can offer multiple tests a week to their students is because the processing center that analyzes their tests is right down the street from them in Cambridge, MA. According to Rao, Columbia sends its tests to this same processing center in Cambridge, and Columbia’s relative distance from the center could be a limitation for adopting Harvard’s model. In response to this revelation, Gender and Sexuality Representative Adam Kluge (CC‘22) asked if there has been any communication by the University with nearby schools like NYU on how they handle weekly testing and which labs they send their tests to. President Mehta responded that it is unclear but that she would bring it up when she meets with Senior Vice President of Columbia Health, Dr. Melanie Bernitz, who may better understand how other New York City institutions handle large-scale testing. After meeting with Dr. Melanie Bernitz, President Mehta will report back with updates on these comments and concerns.

In other news, the Columbia College class of 2025 recently elected its First-Year Class Council who will join weekly CCSC meetings starting next Sunday, October 17!

See you then!

South Lawn via Bwarchives