As the Omicron variant spreads and COVID-19 cases rise, the University is now going to require a COVID-19 booster shot, as well as require masks to be worn indoors through mid-March 2022.
All eligible Columbia students, faculty, and staff will be required to get a COVID-19 booster shot, and the indoor mask rule will continue through mid-March, 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.
According to the email, “compliance with the booster mandate will be necessary by January 31, 2022.” A formal announcement is coming “in the next few days,” but this email was sent to provide “advance word so that you have as much notice as possible to seek a booster dose.”
According to the CDC, if you are aged 16 or older and are six months past your second mRNA shot or two months past your Johnson & Johnson shot, you are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine booster. (Those aged 18 and older can get any shot as a booster, 16 and 17 year olds must get Pfizer as a booster.)
The University’s indoor mask rule will also extend through mid-March 2022.
“To date, our contact tracing indicates that the vast majority of transmission occurs in social gatherings and household settings when masks are not worn,” it says. “We emphasize the need to wear masks in all public settings and in all social gatherings even when vaccination status or testing status of all individuals is known. It is also recommended to wear [a] mask in crowded outdoor settings.”
Finally, due to an uptick in COVID-19 cases, the email encourages students to get a COVID-19 test before departure from and arrival back to campus after winter break. The University has already encouraged professors and instructors to move final exams online because of this increase in cases.
This follows a regional trend of colleges and universities preparing for, and already seeing the effects of, the Omicron variant. Cornell University has detected evidence of Omicron on its campus. Both New York University and Cornell University have seen increases in COVID-19 cases on their campuses, and have implemented new restrictions in response. New York University will be requiring booster shots to access campus next semester.
Email sent to Columbia community members on Thursday, December 16 at 2:47 pm:
Dear Columbia University Community Member,
Recent increases in COVID-19 cases in New York State, New York City, and among our affiliates make it necessary to reiterate what is expected of you as Columbia faculty, staff, and students. Our priorities for you and the community are to be as safe as possible and to continue with our instructional, research, programmatic, and clinical operations. An important factor in balancing these goals is the relatively low level of COVID-19 related severe illness and hospitalization, even while case numbers have risen, reflecting the effectiveness of vaccination to date. A second important consideration is the emerging evidence that vaccine boosters have significant effectiveness for both waning immunity after primary vaccination and for potential partial immune evasion by the Omicron variant.
The following contains important details about new vaccination booster mandate, our indoor face covering, COVID-19 virus testing before and after the upcoming holiday travel and what to do in case of development of symptoms.
New booster vaccination mandate. Our current vaccination mandate will be expanded to require booster doses for all faculty, staff and students who meet the criteria for eligibility. In general, you are eligible for a booster six months after the last dose of your initial Pfizer or Moderna series (or WHO-authorized vaccine) or two months after the initial J & J vaccination. We expect to make a formal announcement in the next few days but are providing this advance word so that you have as much notice as possible to seek a booster dose. For some of you, the easiest option for obtaining a booster dose may be in the area where you are spending the winter break. We anticipate that compliance with the booster mandate will be necessary by January 31, 2022. Information for faculty and staff on how and when to upload your information will be provided in early January, and students can upload through their student health portal. Booster doses are available at many pharmacies and other locations in the metropolitan area or wherever you may be traveling to over the winter break. Columbia will continue offering booster doses for Morningside students at Lerner Hall and for faculty, staff, and CUIMC students at various ColumbiaDoctors locations, as noted here. As always, we recommend that you take advantage of the first opportunity available to you, even if it is a non-Columbia location. All locations provide documentation of all vaccinations, which will be accepted to fulfill the booster mandate.
Face coverings. Our current indoor face covering policy continues through mid-March 2022. To date, our contact tracing indicates that the vast majority of transmission occurs in social gatherings and household settings when masks are not worn. We emphasize the need to wear masks in all public settings and in all social gatherings even when vaccination status or testing status of all individuals is known. It is also recommended to wear [a] mask in crowded outdoor settings.
COVID-19 virus Testing. Because of the increasing number of positive cases in New York City and elsewhere, we strongly recommend that you get tested prior to your departure for the holidays and prior to return to campus. Again, testing is widely available outside the university. Our Lerner Hall and Black Building locations will be open until 12/22/21, re-opening again on 01/4/22. Commencing in January, the Lerner location will expand its hours to Monday 9 AM – 7 PM; Tuesday-Thursday 8 AM-6 PM and Friday, 7 AM-4 PM.
If you have concerns regarding having been a close contact or having participated in an indoor gathering where masks were not worn (including during eating), or you are uncertain of the vaccination status of all attendees, please get tested and monitor your symptoms. In addition, please observe the current testing requirements for international travelers as well as recommended testing guidance for domestic travel.
Please also familiarize yourself with the Spring testing guidance which has already been posted on the Columbia COVID-19 website.
Symptoms of COVID-19. If you experience COVID-19 symptoms, immediately isolate yourself and get tested (using an at-home testing kits or symptomatic testing site in the city and elsewhere. If you test positive please report this to Covidtesttrace@columbia.edu and you will be provided with further guidance via email. This guidance will inform you of what you need to do and available resources.
Enjoy the holidays but be safe. While we wish you all enjoyable r holidays, please avoid indoor social gatherings, particularly if masking cannot be strictly enforced, and prior testing and vaccination status of attendees are unclear. Remember to also use testing before and after such gatherings. In addition, in such circumstances, try to observe distancing, especially if eating is taking place.
Next steps. Our Columbia public health experts and guidance from the federal, state and city governments will influence our landscape over the coming weeks, and we will be sure to communicate any changes to you prior to January 18th.
Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, CUIMC
University COVID Director
Senior Executive Vice President
Vaccines and mask via Pixabay