Columbia University health officials held a forum to update faculty, researchers, and staff on the status of the pandemic, as well as the Omicron variant and guidelines for travel during the holiday season.

Columbia’s COVID-19 Campus Update Forum focused on COVID-19 took place on Zoom on Tuesday, December 6. The panelists included Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, professor and director of the Mailman School’s Global Health Initiative; Dr. Donna Lynne, the Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of CUIMC; Dr. Melanie Bernitz, the Senior Vice President for Columbia Health; and Gerald Rosbert, the Senior Executive VP of the University. 

The forum occurred in conjunction with an email that was sent to Columbia students and affiliates on the same day about two hours prior at 2:17 pm. The email detailed information on booster vaccines, indoor and outdoor masking policies and recommendations, and recommendations for testing after attendance in high-risk settings and international travel. The email in its entirety can be found below. 

Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr began the panel by delivering a snapshot of the current status of COVID-19 in New York City and the United States, in which cases slightly increased, especially after the Thanksgiving holiday. Cases of the newly-identified Omicron variant are increasing internationally with instances being reported in 55 countries, including the United States, but it was noted that as of now, the dominant variant in the United States and NYC is the Delta variant. Still, Dr. El-Sadr explained, hospitalizations and deaths remain significantly lower in vaccinated individuals than unvaccinated individuals. 

The panel then switched to Dr. Donna Lynne, who gave an update about COVID-19 policies on Columbia’s campus. As of now, the campus remains in the “yellow” risk area, indicating that all current COVID-19 policies will remain in place. Small informal group dining for faculty, staff, and students is permissible on and off-campus, and gatherings of 25 or fewer may serve food and beverages. Events with 26 or more require pre-approval. For events with CUID members only, there is no capacity threshold–however, participants are expected to wear masks. Dr. Lynne also reiterated suggestions sent in the prior email, such as booster vaccination, indoor masking, and recommended outdoor masking for large events. The University also recommends testing after traveling to parts of the US with high COVID-19 incidence rates and before and after international travel. 

Dr. Melanie Bernitz continued the panel with updates on plans for the Spring 2022 semester. For the Spring 2022 semester, mask policies and visitor guidelines will remain in place. After the return from break, all undergraduate residential students will be required to complete gateway testing within one business day of their return to campus–and again between five to seven business days after their return. Gateway testing is also required for faculty, students, and staff who are new to campus and did not receive a gateway test in 2021. For fully vaccinated individuals, campus access will be allowed while awaiting the results of the gateway test. Unvaccinated individuals must test before accessing campus and quarantine while awaiting the results. 

Columbia’s surveillance testing program will also continue in the Spring 2022 semester. Fully vaccinated, randomly selected students, staff, and faculty will be required to test within two weeks of the notification email. Columbia affiliates who have a medical or religious exemption for COVID-19 vaccination or those arriving from an international destination and not fully vaccinated are required to test weekly. Residential undergraduates who receive a wastewater surveillance detection notification will be required to test in one to two business days. The last day to test for the Fall 2021 semester will be Wednesday, December 22. The testing centers will reopen on Tuesday, January 4.

The forum closed out with a Q&A, where the panelists indicated that they “cannot predict” whether or not booster vaccines will be required in the Spring 2022 semester. They also confirmed that daily attestations through the ReOpen CU app will continue. 

For more information, visit the COVID-19 Resource Guide website.

The email sent to Columbia students on Tuesday, December 6 can be found in its entirety below.

Dear Colleague:

In view of the recent increases in COVID-19 cases and SARS-CoV-2 testing positivity in New York State and New York City due to colder weather and tendency to gather indoors, anticipated increase in holiday travel and get-togethers with families and friends, as well as concerns regarding omicron variant, we wanted to update you on several issues including recommended supplemental testing:

  1. Booster vaccine doses. Booster dosing is currently recommended for all adults. There are locations throughout the city and you may also make an appointment with ColumbiaDoctors by going onto your Connect account.  ColumbiaDoctors is offering booster shots in five locations.  Morningside students ONLY can book a booster appointment via the scheduling section of the Columbia Health Patient Portal (limited availability).
  1. Indoor masking.  As you are aware, the University requires indoor masking in all its facilities and recommends masking outdoors in crowded settings; we expect this masking requirement to continue through the winter. The City has also recently issued a stronger recommendation on indoor masking in certain public spaces.  See here.
  1. Outdoor masking. Effective 12/7, we are strongly encouraging masking outdoors in large gatherings.
  1. Supplemental SARS-CoV-2 testing.  Additional testing is also recommended for individuals who have participated in activities that may be associated with risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission.  For the activities listed below, SARS-CoV-2 testing should be done on day 3 to 5 following travel and on day 5-7 following participation in the gatherings described below. For additional campus testing information, see CU COVID-19 Testing Program.
  1. Gatherings with more than 10 people in which any are unmasked, including while eating, and in which not all attendees have had a PCR or antigen test within 48 hours prior to the event .
  2. Domestic travel outside NYC via any form of public transportation (e.g., airplane, bus, train) excluding normal commuting travel from home and Columbia campuses.
  3. Travel to an area in the US with high COVID-19 incidence rates (defined as ≥50 cases per 100,000 population in latest week).

5. SARS-CoV-2 required testing for international travel: Also keep in mind that the CDC announced new requirements for all US and non-US persons arriving in the US, regardless of vaccination status, requiring a negative COVID test within 24 hours of departure for travel to the US. As noted above, we also strongly recommend an additional test on day 3-5 days after return to the US.

Testing is available at Lerner Hall on the Morningside campus and the Black Building on the CUIMC campus.  The Columbia University surveillance testing program results are generally available in 24-36 hours, though it may take up to 72 hours for results and there is no option to expedite tests.  The program does not offer rapid testing. In addition, testing is widely available in New York City and the metropolitan area, however, you again need to consider that the results may, in certain locations, not be available immediately. Those seeking rapid antigen or rapid PCR tests may find the site a helpful resource.


Donna Lynne

Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, CUIMC

University COVID Director

Gerry Rosberg

Senior Executive Vice President

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