In light of the Omicron variant and an uptick in COVID-19 case numbers, Columbia is implementing new restrictions on dining and social gatherings for all community members.
Starting Monday, December 20, all Columbia-related gatherings on- or off-campus will require special approval, and only grab-and-go food will be available from dining halls, according to an email sent to Columbia community members today from Donna Lynne, the University’s COVID-19 Director, and Gerry Rosberg, the Senior Executive Vice President of the University. The full text of the email can be found below.
Any social gathering, according to the email, will require approval through the Request for Exception form. The form asks event organizers to estimate how many people will attend and whether food or drink will be served, as well as to explain “how this gathering/event furthers or supports the University’s academic mission.” As it stands, the form also asks that a Dean, Executive Vice President, or Provost sign off on the request before it’s emailed in, and that it be submitted 30 days or more in advance of the event. Columbia affiliates are also encouraged to avoid any social gatherings unless aware of all attendees’ vaccination and testing statuses.
Dining halls will also change to a grab-and-go format only, except for residential students who remain on campus over the break. This comes after Barnard dining halls moved to grab-and-go early last week.
The email also urged affiliates to continue to wear masks in all indoor spaces as well as in crowded outdoor spaces, and to get tested if attending a gathering where there might have been transmission, if traveling recently, if in contact with a case, or if symptomatic.
The guidelines are being put in place due to the surge in COVID-19 cases in New York City and at the University itself, “likely largely due to the Omicron variant,” as the email states. The university reaffirmed that there have been no confirmed hospitalizations among Columbia affiliates and that vaccination and booster doses still provide effective protections—so students should get a booster dose as soon as possible to comply with the University requirement.
Email sent to Columbia community members by University COVID-19 Director Donna Lynne and Senior Executive Vice President Gerry Rosberg on Monday, December 20 at 11 am:
Dear fellow members of the Columbia community,
As you are undoubtedly aware, there is a substantial increase in the number of COVID-19 cases now being reported in New York City and New York State. Not surprisingly, we have also experienced a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and test positivity reported among our Columbia affiliates over the past week as will be posted on the Columbia COVID-19 website. It is likely that this increase is largely due to the Omicron variant, which has resulted in a sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in other countries. We have to date no reports of any severe cases requiring hospitalizations among Columbia affiliates.
Available information indicates that this new variant is more transmissible than prior virus variants based on the rates of increase in total numbers of cases. At the same time, early data suggest that it may result in less severe illness. This is based on information from South Africa and the United Kingdom, two countries that have experienced a substantial increase in the number of cases, but where hospitalizations have not risen at a rate commensurate with the increase in cases and have remained below the level of hospitalizations noted with prior surges.
At Columbia, we are fortunate that we have in place several measures that will be critically important in stemming transmission. Most importantly, Columbia is a fully-vaccinated community. Data from New York City continue to show much lower COVID-19 case and hospitalization rates among vaccinated individuals relative to those who are unvaccinated. In addition, data from nursing homes in the US show the protective effect of vaccination and demonstrate the additional benefit of booster doses. Early data also indicate that booster doses are likely to offer protection against the Omicron variant. Lastly, our universal indoor masking mandate remains in place offering further protection, combined with our daily attestation system and the robust testing program we have in place.
Nonetheless, in view of the increase in the number of cases in our community and our city, the following measures will be put in place as of Monday, December 20:
- All Columbia-related social gatherings on and off campus require special approval.
- Only grab-and-go food will be available, with the exception of dining services for residential students remaining on campus.
- All affiliates are urged to avoid social gatherings wherever they are located, unless aware of vaccination and testing status of all attendees.
- Stay home if you have symptoms, and seek testing at locations that offer symptomatic testing.
- We urge wearing of masks indoors in all public settings as well as in crowded settings when outdoors.
- Get tested if you become aware that you were in contact with a case; if you have attended a gathering that may have facilitated transmission; or if you have recently travelled domestically or internationally.
- Get a booster dose as soon as possible (consistent with the recently-announced Columbia booster mandate).
We refer you to our prior message sent on December 14 which provides details regarding the availability of booster doses and testing venues for our affiliates.
We will continue to monitor the rapidly evolving situation and provide ongoing updates to our community.
Donna Lynn [sic]
Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, CUIMC
University COVID Director
Senior Executive Vice President
Columbia COVID-19 Alert via Bwarchives