This evening, Barnard students received new guidelines regarding masking on campus in an email from Marina Catallozzi, VP of Health and Wellness.

Barnard is immediately reinstating its mask mandate in certain indoor spaces, according to an email from Dr. Marina Catallozzi, VP of Health and Wellness, citing a jump in case counts in the Barnard community and Manhattan. The testing plan that has been in place since March 28, whereby students are tested once every two weeks, will remain in place. The isolation policy, meanwhile, will likely shift from dedicated on- or off-campus isolation toward in-room isolation, according to “anticipated trends.” This mirrors Columbia’s current isolation policy.

Masks will be required in Barnard classrooms, dining halls, the Milstein Center, study spaces, and at any college-sponsored event. Barnard dorm buildings were not included in the list of locations where masking is mandated. The email reassures students that “the infections we are seeing on campus are not serious,” and that rates of hospitalization are the lowest they’ve been since the start of the pandemic. However, it notes that there has been a spike in cases since the mask mandate was lifted on March 28 and that these cases are causing symptoms among members of the Barnard community. 

Positivity rates at Barnard have jumped significantly higher than those at Columbia; for the week of March 28 to April 3, Barnard had a positivity rate among students of 3.87%, higher than during the winter break spike in Omicron cases, when positivity rates were 2.96%. In New York, transmission rates have also risen since the start of March, though they still remain far below the December to January Omicron peak.

In keeping with the “data-informed” approach guiding Barnard’s COVID-19 policy, this newly-implemented mask mandate will be in effect for at least two weeks, when it will be reevaluated based on infection rates at the college and across New York. Students are advised to wear N95 or KN95 masks, which are available at Barnard’s testing center.

At the time of publication, Columbia has not announced any changes to its policy on indoor masking.

Update on April 8 at 7:15 pm:

Bwog reached out to Dr. Catallozzi for further information about the policy change. When asked what Barnard’s metrics were for instituting the new policy, Dr. Catallozzi responded, “The recent decision to temporarily restore a mask mandate is less about a threshold number, and more about responding to the trajectory and emerging trends we’re seeing.”

Regarding the choice of locations covered by the new policy, Dr. Catallozzi told Bwog that the College chose to enforce masking in places where it would protect the widest amount of students. In locations and situations where masks are not currently required, such as residence halls, she advised that students discuss masking and, “make decisions knowing each other’s possible exposures.”

Dr. Catallozzi also informed Bwog that 48% of the COVID-19 tests conducted through the College’s testing program last week were voluntary, with one-fifth of those students citing an exposure to COVID-19 as the reason for their test. Barnard ended its weekly COVID-19 testing requirement the week of March 28, while Columbia phased out its voluntary COVID-19 testing program on March 1.

Email from Chief Health Officer Catallozzi sent to students on Wednesday, April 6, at 8:18 pm:

Dear Barnard Community,

As we wrote in our COVID-19 Policy Updates | Barnard Communications message on March 4th, we are using a data-informed approach to guide Barnard’s campus and will continue to monitor and remain agile as needed. This disease continues to behave unpredictably.  While rates of hospitalization for COVID-19 are the lowest they have been since the pandemic started, we have seen a small spike in our infection rates on campus. We are seeing an increase in symptomatic cases of COVID-19, in individuals testing positive for COVID-19 via self-administered home antigen testing and through our testing program, which currently includes both surveillance and voluntary testing. While the city as a whole is seeing some increase in cases, transmission rates in Manhattan are two times those in any other borough.

Based on this information, Barnard is taking the following steps and making the following recommendations:

Masking: Masking will be required in all classrooms, the dining hall, library, at any college-sponsored events, gatherings or study spaces. We will re-evaluate this requirement in two weeks as we continue to follow our COVID-19 infection rates. Outside of this, and in the context of this increase in infections, we encourage our community to mask when there are groups of people gathering.  There is evidence from the CDC that you are less likely to test positive for COVID-19 if you always wear a mask in indoor public settings. Masks not only prevent transmission of COVID-19 and other common viruses like the flu and colds, but they also help to protect those in our community who cannot be vaccinated or are immunocompromised. Wear the best-fitting and most protective mask that you can such as an N95 or KN95, which remain available to all in the testing center.

Testing: We will continue our current surveillance plan as outlined in this document. As has been the case in these past two weeks, any Barnard community member who is not symptomatic but wants to continue weekly testing or has had a recent exposure can voluntarily test at the testing center. Any community member who is vaccine exempt must continue to test weekly.  We encourage any of our community members who have symptoms of COVID-19 | CDC to either see a provider or antigen test with a rapid test on their own. Please upload any positive test results to CoVerified as outlined in this CoVerified Information + FAQs.

Isolation: We continue our current practice of requiring isolation after any positive COVID-19 test results. All community members can be re-evaluated at day five to assess if they can leave isolation but must commit to masking for the next five days. As noted in our Important information for Spring 2022 return to campus | Barnard Communications, students who are able to isolate and recover at home or elsewhere off campus are asked to do so. Due to the limited amount of dedicated isolation housing at the College and anticipated trends, students should be prepared to recover in their housing assignments if they test positive and they are unable to do so off-campus.

Dining: As noted above, students are asked to mask in dining halls when not eating. We are also continuing our current practice of making available grab and go options for those who want them.

Treatment options: While the majority of cases on campus are causing symptoms of illness, our community has high rates of vaccination and boosting which lowers risk of serious illness or hospitalization. If you are infected with COVID-19 and your symptoms are worsening, please be in touch with your healthcare provider. COVID-19 treatments are available, especially for those over 65 or those with underlying and serious health conditions.

Vaccination: Vaccines remain an important protection from the serious effects of COVID-19, 2022 Vaccine Requirements | Barnard Communications requires that all community members are fully vaccinated. If you have not yet received your first booster vaccination and are now eligible, please get it ASAP. As per Clinical Guidance for COVID-19 Vaccination | CDC, individuals over 50 can receive a second booster four months after the first booster. This guidance also details who else can consider the second booster, particularly those who are immunocompromised. Anyone interested in the booster can also consult with their healthcare provider.

While the infections we are seeing on campus are not serious, they are causing symptoms. We know that stress levels can be high at the end of the year and we want all members of our community to take care of themselves and each other. The best way to do this is by practicing healthy habits. We continue to follow the science and regulations to ensure that the guidelines and requirements that we put in place serve the best interests of all of our community members. We remain grateful to all members of our community who continue to manage the changes that this pandemic has necessitated while keeping our focus on our community’s safety and wellness and will be back in touch soon.  

Wishing you well,

Marina Catallozzi, MD, MSCE

Vice President of Health & Wellness and Chief Health Officer

Barnard Hall via Bwarchives