Union News

Covid-19 August 13 Update: Safety and Wellness Community Guide

Categories: COVID-19


In planning for the Fall 2020 semester, a Return to Campus Committee was created in response to the COVID‐19 health crisis, tasked with ensuring that campus is ready to welcome students, faculty and staff in a safe manner according to state and New York City guidelines. As previously announced, Fall 2020 begins with a September intensive session followed by an October 5 semester start date including a combination of online and traditional classes.

The Seminary has decided that non‐essential staff and faculty can continue working either remotely or in-person, as is necessary. Our priority is, and continues to be, a physical return to the workplace only when safe and necessary.

The responsibility for maintaining a safe environment for returning students, staff, and faculty rests with each of us. This document contains safety protocols and procedures that apply to all members of the community, and the below Safety and Wellness Community Guide has been developed that describes our shared responsibilities.


  1. Self‐screening – required daily before entering the academic building using a smartphone app (currently in development) with an alternative for individuals without a smartphone. The “badge” generated daily by the app must be presented to security upon entry to the building. Any person who fails the screening is not permitted to enter the campus. Upon failure of screening, the employee may also be required to be tested for COVID‐19 by an authorized health professional. Human Resources is responsible for monitoring utilization of the app, but does not have access to review individual responses.
  2. Self–monitoring – members of the community who return to campus must also monitor themselves for COVID‐19 symptoms at all times, which include the following:
    • Cough  |  Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing  |  Fever  |  Chills |  Fatigue  |  Repeated shaking with chills  |  Muscle pain  |  Sore throat  |  Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea  |  New loss of taste or smell
  3. Healthy hygiene practices – the following guidelines and safety measures are established to ensure daily activities support public health efforts to mitigate infection risk:
    • Wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds
      • If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol
    • Always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, or use the inside of the elbow.
      • Used tissues should be thrown away immediately and hands should be washed with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth to prevent infection
    • Stay home when sick or experiencing COVID‐19 symptoms
    • Avoid contact with people who are sick
    • Share responsibility for surface cleaning
    • Get a flu shot If not already immunized for the flu
  4. Face covering and personal protective equipment – In accordance with CDC and NY State Department of Health guidelines, appropriate use of face masks that fully cover the mouth and nose and other necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), will be required to minimizing risks to the wearers and surrounding faculty, staff and students. Face coverings must be worn by all faculty and staff while on campus including offices, common workspaces, meeting rooms, hallways, etc. Employees may remove their face covering while working alone in an office with the door closed.Union will provide all employees with face masks and latex gloves as needed. Masks and gloves are available in the Facilities office. In addition to face coverings, every individual entering Union Theological Seminary must immediately sanitize their hands with stations available at each entrance.

    Where practical, the Seminary will purchase and install protective plexiglass screening to further protect employees and/or students.

  5. Social and physical distancing – distance separated by at least 6 feet (or two arm’s length) helps reduce the spread of infection particularly as COVID‐19 can be spread before a person is sick. All persons on campus must always stay at least 6 feet from other individuals. In‐person meetings should be limited and employees should attempt to hold meetings via conference calls or zoom. Observe proper social distancing in common spaces, avoid handshaking and physical contact. All individuals are required to follow posted signage and other instructions provided within the campus.Community members including visitors/vendors will be encouraged, when possible, to follow directional guidelines in stairwells and elevators.
  6. Cleaning, disinfection, and ventilation – the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) specifically recommend disinfecting and cleaning frequently‐touched surfaces. Union will repeatedly clean its facilities each day, with high‐touch areas given particular attention such as bathrooms, vending machines, elevators, security areas, railings and door handles. Cleaning policies that satisfy CDC guidelines for reopening as outlined here https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019‐ncov/community/reopen‐guidance.html will be followed. Products approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency for COVID‐19 sanitation as outlined here https://www.epa.gov/pesticide‐registration/list‐n‐disinfectants‐use‐against‐sars‐cov‐2) will be utilized.Hand sanitizer stations will be located on each floor in addition to disinfectant wipes near photocopiers, elevators, railings and classrooms. HVAC filters will be replaced or cleaned.

    Shared office food and beverage devices will be temporarily removed or powered off including water fountains and water coolers. If shared refrigerators, toasters, microwaves, and coffee makers are used, employees are responsible for disinfecting after usage and washing their hands. Individuals are discouraged from using each other’s phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment.

Appropriate signage is posted throughout the building particularly near heavy use areas regarding safe hygiene, social distancing, and cleaning protocols.

Above health and hygiene practices, social distancing protocols, and use of protective equipment apply to all persons entering any campus building. Visitors to the academic building are limited to vendors and persons with approved appointments. For purposes of contact tracing, approved visitors must register with security and provide contact information.


In the coming weeks, managers will inform staff when they may return to campus. The approach is to reopen in careful stages. Union recognizes that traveling to and from work on public transportation is likely higher risk than being in the office. Although some physical presence on campus may be desired and necessary, supervisors are asked to continue to be very flexible to help employees reduce the time spent regularly on public transportation. Employees will be provided staggered start and end times, and as more employees return with regularity, Union will continue to stagger work schedules to minimize the number of employees entering campus at the same time, or during peak hours.

  1. Testing – staff and faculty are strongly encouraged to be tested for COVID‐19 before returning to campus. Union is actively exploring with Columbia University whether testing can realistically be provided to all faculty and staff, symptomatic or not, or identified through contact tracing.
  2. Contact tracing – Union will cooperate with contact tracing programs required by the Department of Health and coordinate with local public health authorities as necessary.
  3. If COVID‐19 symptoms are exhibited – any employee who exhibits COVID‐19 symptoms as defined by the CDC, will be sent home immediately. That particular day, Union will cordon off the immediate and adjacent area(s) where the employee spent at least 15 minutes, and subject the space(s) to a thorough cleaning. The area(s) will remain off‐limits for 24 hours. The infected employee will be prohibited from returning to campus until medical clearance is provided.If an employee exhibits any COVID‐19 symptoms before arriving to work, they must stay home. If symptoms occur once on campus, employees must immediately move to a space away from others, and notify their supervisor that they are making arrangements to leave the workplace immediately.

    Any employee exhibiting COVID‐19 symptoms will be immediately located to an isolated space until safely able to leave campus.

    Employees who have been on campus and later develop COVID‐19 symptoms within 14 days of last being on campus, must notify Human Resources of symptoms and stay home.

    Faculty and staff deemed “vulnerable”, their circumstances will be considered for accommodations on a case‐by‐case basis. Faculty should consult with the dean, and staff should consult with their supervisor; subsequently, the dean or supervisor then consults with the Office of Human Resources.

  4. Isolation and quarantine – the CDC defines isolation as separating sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick and quarantine as separating and restricting the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick. Some key situations to be aware of are:
    • Any individual thought to be exposed to the virus is required to quarantine themselves and not report to work.
    • Any individual with confirmed COVID‐19 symptoms must self‐isolate while awaiting test results and not report to work. If tested negative, the employee can return to work.
    • Any individual diagnosed with COVID‐19 must self‐isolate and not report to work.
  5. Communication and training – faculty and staff will be provided ongoing communication regarding return to campus updates and other related COVID‐19 training. Union is working closely with local health departments and other higher education institutions to monitor public health conditions. Key findings will be shared with the community as appropriate.


  1. Residence hall density – two residence halls, McGiffert Hall and Hastings Hall, are used for faculty, staff and graduate student housing. These residences represent the primary address for most of our faculty and graduate students, and some staff.Of the spaces allotted to students, initially only 38% will be occupied. 81% of these students will be housed in single occupancy studios or one‐bedroom apartments with private bathrooms and kitchens. A small percentage of studios and apartments will be family units. The remaining 19% of students will be housed in two‐room suites or divided among three separate dormitory floors configured as low‐density suites, spacing occupants apart with particular attention to preventing overcrowding common kitchens and bathrooms. One of these areas is already established as a living/learning community where residents have lived together since last academic year, and one specifically designed for PhD students as long‐term residence.

    Residential students are expected to adhere to a community covenant developed by each floor in compliance with health and hygiene and physical distancing protocols outlined in this Reopening Plan.

    Residents are encouraged to strictly limit visitors to close family members and significant others. Visitors are not permitted in any public space in the residence halls, including shared kitchens, bathrooms and lounges.

  2. Social and physical distancing – each student will be provided two reusable masks upon arrival to campus.Students will be required to wear masks in all public areas of the residence halls including shared kitchens and bathrooms. Gloves are provided for use, as necessary, in shared kitchens, bathrooms and common areas.

    Students will be instructed to always stay at least 6 feet from other individuals and not to gather in large groups consistent with current Department of Health and New York state protocols. Student organization meetings and floor meetings should be conducted via conference calls or zoom. Floor lounges and public spaces will be available only to students living on that floor, configured to maintain social distancing protocols, and locked until reserved through the student life assistant (SLA).

    Visitors entering residence halls will be required to wear a face mask and adhere to safety protocols as displayed in posted signage.

    Appropriate signage is posted in lobbies, public bathrooms, and digitally displayed on lounge monitors adhering to proper hygiene practices and social distancing protocols.

  3. Testing and surveillance – students are strongly encouraged to be tested for COVID‐19 before returning to campus. If students test positive, they must follow the guidance of the physician regarding isolation and quarantine and not return to campus until recovered.All students, upon return to campus, will again be tested for COVID‐19, either before attending classes on the first day of the semester, or prior to moving in on move‐in day for residential students. Union Theological Seminary contracts with Columbia Health for all primary and acute care services, including COVID‐19 testing and surveillance. In accordance with this agreement, Columbia Health will provide initial testing upon student arrival, follow‐up surveillance testing 5 days after initial testing; and ongoing community testing according to existing public health guidelines. Students are also strongly encouraged to obtain a seasonal flu shot before returning to campus.
    • Isolation and quarantine – students who feel ill are instructed to stay home and make an appointment with Columbia Health for evaluation and treatment including COVID‐19 testing. Based upon the determination and recommendation of the treating provider, Union will provide appropriate isolation or quarantine, according to the following general principles and in coordination with New York State DOH guidance.
    • Students who test positive for COVID‐19 and live in a single residence will be permitted to isolate in place and provided with daily remote check‐ins and groceries or prepared meals as necessary.
      • Students who test positive for COVID‐19 and live in a shared suite or apartment will be removed from the unit and placed in a studio apartment with private bath and kitchen, and provided with daily remote check‐ins and groceries or prepared meals as necessary.
    • Asymptomatic suitemates will be permitted to quarantine in place. Symptomatic suitemates will be removed and placed in a private studio with a private bath and provided with daily check‐ins and groceries or prepared meals as necessary.
    • Students who have been determined to be a significant contact will be provided with the appropriate level of quarantine‐either voluntary or mandatory as recommended by public health officials.
    • Consistent with modeling recommended by Columbia Health, the number of unoccupied studio apartments with a private bathroom and kitchen is sufficient to quarantine or isolate 25% of students in residence simultaneously.
    • Students returning to campus from states on the NY travel warning list will be required to quarantine in place for 14 days in accordance with this directive.
  4. Contact tracing – in coordination with Columbia Health and the New York State Department of Health, Union will cooperate with contact tracing responsibilities through student interviews, and identification of visitors. To comply with contact tracing responsibilities, visitors are required to register with security and provide contact information.
  5. Communication and training – the Student Affairs and Residential Life team, including Student Life Assistants, meet weekly to review existing protocols, and public health guidelines to make any necessary changes in policies and procedures including communicating important public health announcements to the student body. In addition, students will participate in Health and Wellness and COVID‐19 information sessions during new student and residential orientation, and provided with updated health and safety materials and routinely scheduled floor meetings.


The Executive Team meets weekly throughout the academic year to monitor campus life, including health and safety. In addition, members of the team participate in the twice weekly emergency management team meetings at Columbia University to keep abreast of changing public health protocols. Should it be determined that keeping the campus open presents a significant health and safety risk, the campus will immediately shut down as follows:

  • Public spaces will be closed, and all in-person classes and meetings suspended.
  • Staff will shift to remote work.
  • With the exception of essential workers, no one will be permitted in the academic building
  • Visitors are not permitted in the residences.
  • Residents on campus will be strongly encouraged to relocate, with consideration for the individual circumstances of each resident and the residential nature of our community. For those unable to relocate, essential services will be maintained.

Union Theological Seminary is committed to disseminating this information to the community and requiring adherence to these standards.