Union News

COVID-19 MAR 5 Update: Notes from Columbia’s Office of Preparedness

Categories: COVID-19, Union News

We continue to monitor information and expert recommendations regarding the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and work closely with Columbia’s Office of Preparedness.

With Spring Recess upon us, we thought it important to remind you, that anyone- whether they travel over the break or not- who feels ill or believes they may have been in contact with an infected person, please call 212-854-7426 for Columbia Health Morningside Medical Services, or call your primary care clinician.  Staff/faculty, please contact your primary care clinician.

Also, if any Union faculty/staff/students have returned from, or transited through China (including Hong Kong), Italy, Iran, Japan, and South Korea in the past 14 days, or have had direct close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19, fill out Columbia’s secure and confidential form.

On campus, we have added hand sanitizer stations and Facilities staff will continue their standard cleaning of restrooms and high traffic areas using disinfectant materials, with special attention to handles and knobs. We encourage everyone to follow the CDC recommended preventive measures, which include:

  • Wash your hands frequently [we will be placing CDC handwashing guides in campus restrooms]
  • Avoid contact with sick people
  • Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose
  • Clean high-touch surfaces with disinfectant wipes
  • Please stay home from classes or work if you are sick

You can find the latest Columbia update at https://preparedness.columbia.edu/.   The next meeting of the Columbia University Infectious Disease working group, of which we are a member, is scheduled for Friday, March 6. We will continue to update you regularly.

Below is information most recently issued by Columbia. It is lengthy, but contains very important information, so we encourage you to read it fully:

Columbia University continues to closely follow the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak that was first identified in Wuhan, China in December. COVID-19 is a viral strain that had not been found in humans before. This coronavirus can lead to fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat, headache, and shortness of breath.

There are a growing number of cases being diagnosed throughout the world, including in the United States and New York City. The well-being of our community is a top priority for Columbia University and we are actively monitoring the situation.

This FAQ contains more information about COVID-19 for the Columbia Morningside, Manhattanville, and CUIMC campuses as well as affiliated Teachers College, Jewish Theological Seminary, and Union Theological Seminary.

What is the current status of the virus at Columbia University? 

  • There are currently no identified cases among Columbia affiliates.
  • Health authorities throughout the world are focused on this illness and Columbia has professional, highly trained medical staff members who are closely following developments, are working closely with other University offices to make well-informed decisions, and are committed to protecting the health of the Columbia community.
  • Individual risk is dependent on exposure. For the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus at this time, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low.

What are the current University actions to protect the health of our community? 

  • Columbia officials are working closely with the US Health and Human ServicesNYC Department of HealthNew York State Department of Healththe International Students & Scholars Office, and other key offices to monitor the evolving situation.
  • Columbia follows the guidance of the NYC Department of HealthUS Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding screening and prevention.
  • In order to provide individualized assistance, instructions, and recommendations, Columbia University requests that all affiliates currently in, have returned from, or transited through China (including Hong Kong), Italy, Iran, Japan, and South Korea in the past 14 days, or have had direct close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19, fill out a secure and confidential form.
  • Because it is cold and flu season, and this virus has similar symptoms, it is important to not make any assumptions and have any respiratory illness evaluated by a healthcare provider.
  • Seek prompt medical evaluation if you have fever, cough, or shortness of breath.  Students should call 212-854-7426 for Morningside Medical Services or 212-305-3400 for CUIMC Medical Services.  Faculty and staff should call their primary care provider.
  • All Columbia affiliates are strongly urged to postpone any non-essential international travel. For students, all upcoming travel outside the United States organized, led, or financed by Columbia is suspended until further notice.
    • CUIMC has implemented restrictions for all clinical faculty and staff as follows:
      1. No international travel
      2. No domestic work-related or business/academic travel to meetings or conferences

CDC has issued the following travel guidance related to COVID-19:

The University will also follow all federal requirements regarding community members traveling back to the United States. Please remember to register all university travel.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared COVID-19 an international concern but is recommending member countries follow the current evidence-informed protocols. Columbia will provide updated information should the recommendations be updated. The CDC states that the potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is high, both globally and to the United States, but individual risk is dependent on exposure. For the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus at this time, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low.

We encourage students not to travel internationally over March break and Easter break, especially to already impacted countries, to avoid any possible requirement for being quarantined – which could impact your ability to keep up with coursework.

All Columbia affiliates are strongly urged to postpone any non-essential international travel. For students, all upcoming travel outside the United States organized, led, or financed by Columbia is suspended until further notice.

Further, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued guidance that institutes of higher education should “consider postponing or canceling student foreign exchange programs.” This advice is motivated in part by an awareness that, in the near future, “students may face unpredictable circumstances, travel restrictions, challenges in returning home or accessing health care while abroad

Additional guidance about events:

At this time, events for Columbia faculty, students and staff on the Morningside and Manhattanville campuses can continue as planned or be postponed at the event host’s discretion.  Because this is a rapidly changing situation, it is possible that guidance from federal, state and local health authorities will shift and events will need to be postponed or offered virtually, so please keep this in mind in your planning.

If you are hosting an event, please follow this guidance, which is based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Columbia’s Public Health experts: 

Remind audience members or attendees about these basic prevention practices in group settings:

  • Greet each other by bumping elbows instead of shaking hands, hugging or kissing
  • Avoid sharing food and drinks
  • Sneeze and cough into your elbow

Food and drinks:

  • Avoid offering food in “shared” settings such as buffets or passed hors d’oeuvres.
  • If food or drinks are being served, be sure there are washrooms nearby or make hand sanitizer available on site if possible.

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