Comparing testing policies for vaccinated students here and elsewhere, and some questions for Columbia.
Columbia’s decision to forgo a regular testing policy for its fully-vaccinated students, especially while Barnard maintains its once-weekly requirement for all, has been a hot topic among students. As the community continuously tries to make sense of college in the age of COVID-19, it’s not a bad idea to have some context for the policies Columbia has put in place.
As a refresher, Columbia requires all fully vaccinated students, faculty, and staff to participate in surveillance testing, in which “a random sample of those accessing campus will be notified by email if selected and will be required to get tested within two weeks of selection.” Only those who are unvaccinated, or have a “sub-optimal vaccine response,” are required to be tested once per week throughout the semester.
To contextualize Columbia’s policies, below are two brief lists of COVID-19 testing policies for vaccinated students — first at other Ivy League institutions, and then at some other colleges which call New York City home. Perhaps the most relevant thing this first grouping has in common is massive endowments compared to many other universities — every Ivy, including Columbia, likely has the resources to run testing at whatever level of intensity they choose. Let’s take a look at what these similarly endowed institutions are doing with that freedom.
- Vaccinated undergraduates living on campus are required to test twice per week, and those living off campus test once per week.
- The university distinguishes between how much contact an individual will be making with the university by splitting the community up into “cadences.”
- Graduate students, faculty, and researchers test at a similar frequency to undergraduates, with any given cadence in the list testing at least once per week.
- Reports that “All fully vaccinated undergraduate students, and fully vaccinated professional students in CVM, Law, Johnson, AAP and ILR, are required to participate in surveillance testing once per week.”
- Meanwhile, vaccinated “faculty and staff” do not have a single unifying policy. The school states that “[s]ome vaccinated faculty and staff, due to the nature of their student-facing roles, will continue to participate in surveillance testing.”
- Here, all vaccinated undergraduate and graduate students test twice per month — effectively every other week.
- Vaccinated “faculty, staff, and postdocs” are tested via random sampling, similar to Columbia’s policy for vaccinated undergraduates. Penn writes, “The proportion sampled will be determined based on the status of the epidemic, and other virologic and epidemiological data from the campus and the city.”
- Vaccinated undergraduate students are required to test once per week, described as “a return to the testing frequency prior to the temporary measures put in place in mid-September.”
- Testing has recently become optional for employees, graduate students, and medical students.
- On their website, Brown details their shift in protocol throughout the semester in response to levels of COVID-19 in their community.
- Weekly testing is required for all vaccinated undergraduate students, both on and off campus.
- “Graduate and professional students” living on campus, or participating in specific programs, are required to test weekly. Those living off campus, not participating in said programs, need only complete a gateway test upon arrival. Fully vaccinated “faculty, staff, postdoctoral and postgraduate trainees” have no testing requirement.
- All fully vaccinated students and employees must test once per week.
- All fully vaccinated students must test once per week.
- For faculty and staff, testing frequency depends on “their vaccination status and how often they work onsite.”
To summarize: aside from Columbia, all Ivy League schools require their vaccinated undergraduate students to participate in a regular testing program. Most institutions require testing at minimum once a week — Harvard’s requirements are more extensive, with testing twice per week for those living on campus, and UPenn’s slightly more lax, testing vaccinated undergraduate students twice per month.
Columbia is the only Ivy League school to not require a testing schedule for their vaccinated undergraduates.
A second list of policies to compare with is that of other residential colleges and universities in New York City.
- We know this one already. All fully vaccinated undergraduate students are required to participate in a weekly testing program in order to access campus.
The New School:
- Requires every-other-week testing for vaccinated students.
- Requires weekly testing for vaccinated students.
- Requires weekly testing for vaccinated students.
Although the above schools have a more intensive testing schedule, many other residential New York institutions have similar policies to Columbia with regard to testing fully vaccinated students. The following schools only report a regular, continuous testing requirement for their unvaccinated community members.
- Surveillance testing of random samplings of students, faculty, and staff is currently in effect, due to campus COVID-19 conditions being at the “yellow” level of risk.
- Beyond this, testing is optional for vaccinated students, and only mandatory on a weekly basis for unvaccinated students, faculty, and staff.
- Surveillance testing via random sampling is conducted.
- Beyond this, testing is optional for vaccinated students, and mandatory on a weekly basis for those who are unvaccinated.
- Fordham reports that they are “not conducting broad surveillance testing for COVID-19.”
- Only unvaccinated students and employees are required to be tested weekly.
- Pace does not report any testing requirement for vaccinated students.
- The website states that “some groups may still be required to test based on on-campus and community trends.”
- Unvaccinated students are required to be tested weekly.
The Jewish Theological Seminary:
- Vaccinated students have no scheduled testing requirement. They must participate in Columbia or Barnard surveillance testing programs.
- Students enrolled in the List College/Double Degree program, who earn a degree from both Barnard and JTS, participate in Barnard’s weekly testing.
- Unvaccinated students test weekly through Columbia or Barnard.
Manhattan School of Music:
- Only reports a weekly testing requirement for unvaccinated students.
When asked how much communication there was between Barnard and Columbia in creating COVID-19 testing policies, a Columbia spokesperson responded that the institutions have “communicated frequently” about pandemic response.
Bwog also inquired about the reasoning behind Columbia restricting student gathering in response to the mid-September spike in COVID-19 cases on campus, while not responding with any increase in testing frequency. According to Columbia, “based on our contact tracing efforts, we were able to determine that the rise in cases was clustered around the undergraduate population’s social interactions. Because of this, we were able to craft a narrow policy that had the intended effect (limiting transmission in this population) without imposing broader restrictions on the entire Columbia community… testing is only one element of a broader mitigation strategy.”
Vaccine Centre via Bwarchives.