COVID-19 Precautions forJ-Term and Spring 2023

As we near the third anniversary of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the college will modify some existing campus precautions for the J-term and spring semester, thanks to the comparatively lower severity of the now dominant Omicron subvariants of the virus, especially as measured in hospitalizations and deaths.

Columbia does not take the pandemic lightly. COVID continues to be a serious disease, and cases that do not lead to hospitalization and death can still have lasting health consequences. We have navigated the pandemic with care, buoyed by the consideration that the members of our community have demonstrated for one another, and guided by consultation with experts. We encourage everyone to maintain the same course of mutual support and adherence to public health guidance to help safeguard community well-being.

The CDC and other health experts have emphasized the continued effectiveness of individual precautions against serious illness – vaccination, boosters, and high-quality masks.

The following COVID-19 precautions will go into effect on January 3:

Vaccination

Columbia will continue to require vaccination for students (defined as an initial vaccination course of a CDC-approved vaccine). The college strongly recommends members of the community avail themselves of the new bivalent booster; an article published in October in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that the bivalent boosters generated superior antibody responses against Omicron subvariants compared to older COVID vaccines.

The college plans on holding booster clinics in the spring.

Testing

Columbia will suspend COVID testing requirements for unvaccinated students and suspend on-campus surveillance testing for asymptomatic people. The value of testing asymptomatic individuals has diminished over time; out of more than two thousand tests of asymptomatic individuals conducted on campus in the fall semester, only one generated a positive test result, and there were no positive tests in asymptomatic unvaccinated individuals.

Testing for students experiencing symptoms will remain available at the Student Health Center.

As advised by CDC, students, faculty, and staff should continue to seek testing and medical advice if they experience symptoms, and isolate as they await confirmation of their COVID status. The CDC’s recommended precautions can be found here.

Case reporting/contact tracing

Members of the Columbia community – faculty, staff, students, and contractors – will still be required to report being positive for COVID here.

COVID-positive people will receive email confirmation of current CDC guidance for isolating and for returning to campus. In-person contact tracing for COVID cases will continue in the residence halls. Other COVID-positive people will be responsible for notifying people with whom they know they came into close contact, as defined here.

Masking

Masking precautions will be the same in spring 2023 as in fall 2022. These can be found here. The current campus COVID-19 precaution level remains at “medium,” any change to that status over the holiday break will be communicated by the college.

Regardless of the precaution level, classes will be masked through the second week of the spring semester, as everyone returns from extended breaks in various locations.

Anyone experiencing symptoms of a cold-like, respiratory or flu-like illness (in particular, sustained coughing and/or sneezing), even if COVID has been ruled out, should stay home whenever possible and, when on campus, must wear a mask (ideally a medical mask or N95 mask) around others until the symptoms subside.

In campus settings where masking is optional, some members of the campus community may choose to mask while others may choose to forgo a mask. Each of us should respect the choices that others make.

The college may update these precautions based on COVID trends, official guidance, expert advice, and ongoing consultation with campus stakeholders, including staff and faculty constituent groups.

Columbia College adheres to CDC determination of COVID risk level.

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Image: Precautions at Various COVID-19 Risk Levels ( view details below )

Note: The current Campus Covid-19 precaution level is at Medium . The level is set by the college, and we must maintain 10 or fewer cases for four consecutive weeks in order for the college to switch to the Low level protocols. Masks are required in classrooms and other instructional settings. Masks are optional in other indoor campus settings.

Precaution Level Overview

Please see additional protocols and details below.

When the COVID-19 risk is high 


  •  Fewer than 200 new COVID cases (per 100,000 people in the last 7 days)  
    • Masks will be required everywhere on campus when: 
      • Staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients are at 15 percent and above. 
      • New COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 population (7-day total) are at 20 percent and above. 
  • 200 or more new COVID cases (per 100,000 people in the last 7 days)  
    • Masks will be required everywhere on campus when: 
      • Staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients are above 15 percent. 
      • New COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 population (7-day total) are above 20% 

When the COVID-19 risk is medium

  •  Fewer than 200 new COVID cases (per 100,000 people in the last 7 days)  
    • Masks will be required in classrooms and instructional settings when: 
      • Staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients are between 10-14.9 percent. 
      • New COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 population (7-day total) are between 10-19.9 percent. 
  • 200 or more new COVID cases (per 100,000 people in the last 7 days)  
    • Masks will be required in classrooms and instructional settings when: 
      • Staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients are below 10 percent.  
      • New COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 population (7-day total) are below 10 percent. 

When the COVID-19 risk is low

  •  Fewer than 200 new COVID cases (per 100,000 people in the last 7 days)  
    • Masking will be optional across campus indoor settings when: 
      • Staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients are below 10 percent. 
      • New COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 population (7-day total) are below 10 percent. 
  • Masking may continue in some instructional settings. The college will continue to discuss with campus stakeholders possible continued masking requirements in some instructional settings at this level.

COVID-19 Protocols

The COVID-19 protocols below are consistent with CDC and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance about COVID-19 regarding quarantine and testing that was issued on August 11. There is also an update on the City of Chicago’s COVID-19 risk level below.

By being on campus, you attest you are complying with testing and all other rules.

The changes stemming from the new CDC and FDA guidance are:

Close contacts who do not have symptoms

  • Close contacts who do not have symptoms must wear a mask for 10 days, but no longer have to quarantine for the first 5 days even if they are unvaccinated or unboosted. They are still required to get tested.
  • If you are a close contact, you have to test either via a PCR test at Day 6 (where the day of close contact counts as Day Zero), or test negative three times on a rapid antigen/home test: The first time on the day you find out you were a close contact, the second time 48 hours after and the third time 48 hours after the second test. You should wear a mask at all times for the full 10 days even if you test negative.
  • You must report that you are a close contact to the college.

What to do if you have symptoms

  • Anyone with symptoms that could indicate COVID-19 (see full list later in this communication) must get tested and isolate pending test results.
  • People with symptoms may take one PCR test or may use two rapid antigen/home tests 48 hours apart as an alternative to a PCR test to rule out COVID-19.
  • If using rapid antigen/home tests, you must test negative at least twice 48 hours apart on a rapid antigen/home test if you have symptoms. That means you must test when symptoms appear and, if negative, confirm your negative status with a second rapid antigen/home test 48 hours later.
  • You must isolate while waiting for the result of the PCR or the result of the second rapid antigen/home test.
  • Even after a negative test, if you still have symptoms, you should continue to wear a mask until symptoms resolve; while you may not have COVID-19, you may still be infectious to others with your cold or other illness.
  • If positive, you must report your case to the college.

Residence hall boosters are no longer required

  • Students living in the residence halls are no longer required to be boosted, due to the CDC lifting quarantine rules for unboosted close contacts.

PCR is a faster testing option in most cases

The revised testing options are based on new guidance from the CDC and FDA based on a study undertaken by the FDA with the National Institutes of Health that found that while one rapid antigen/home test was not reliable in some cases, reliability improved with multiple tests – what the FDA calls serial testing – with the 48-hour intervals being crucial to increased reliability.

Because of the time periods associated with serial testing using rapid antigen tests, a PCR in most situations constitutes a faster way to get results and a more convenient “one and done” testing option. For instance, a student with symptoms may need to isolate for as little as one day while waiting for a PCR result from the Student Health Center, compared to 48 hours with a rapid antigen/home test. If someone is a close contact, they would need to isolate for 96 hours if using a rapid antigen/home test. PCRs are offered on campus as outlined below. If a person with symptoms or a person who is a close contact is not planning to come to campus for a few days, serial antigen testing at 48-hour intervals may be an option that does not require them to come to campus or leave their home to get tested.

Current COVID-19 risk level and implications for campus precautions:

On August 11, the City of Chicago lowered the COVID-19 threat level to “medium.” Per our protocols, the city must remain at “medium” for three weeks, accompanied with fewer than 35 on-campus COVID-19 weekly cases for three weeks, for Columbia to go to “medium” precautions (masking optional in non-instructional indoor settings at the medium level). Weekly on-campus cases have been below 5. The college will make an announcement on September 1 confirming the COVID-19 precautions level that will be in effect for the first day of the fall semester, which is September 6. For the time being, the campus remains on the “high” level.

While there would be a delay to come down from “high” to “medium,” precautions would revert to “high” as soon as we hit either of the “high” thresholds listed below.

VACCINATION AND BOOSTING

  • Students are required to be vaccinated. Students who are not vaccinated due to a college-approved exemption will have to be tested for COVID-19 on campus once a week.
  • Boosters, while strongly encouraged, are not required for students, even if they live in the residence halls.
  • Employees are no longer required to be vaccinated or boosted, though this remains strongly encouraged. This means employees who previously had to test weekly will no longer be required to do so.

Voluntary surveillance testing will remain available to all members of the campus community at the CareATC testing facility at 600 S. Michigan.

MASKING

The college will peg masking precautions on campus to a combination of the city’s risk level and the COVID-19 situation on campus:

  • Masking will be required everywhere indoors when the COVID-19 risk is high
  • Masking will be optional in non-instructional indoor settings when the COVID-19 risk is medium
  • Masking will be optional across campus indoor settings when the COVID-19 risk is low (masking may continue to be required in some instructional settings)

See below for details on each level.

Please note that the current risk level at Columbia is high. Regardless of the risk level, masking will be in effect in classrooms for the first two weeks of the semester.

Campus visitors do not need to be vaccinated, but should adhere to masking protocols in effect on campus at the time of their visit. Members of the campus community hosting visitors should continue to notify Campus Security about visitors in advance to facilitate guest access.

The college will issue an official announcement about a change from one level to another; members of the community should not deviate from protocols until an official announcement is made.

SYMPTOMS AND TESTING

Do not come to campus with symptoms without having ruled out COVID-19 through testing. This means one of the following:

  • One negative PCR test – test immediately when symptoms appear

or

  • Two negative rapid antigen/home tests 48 hours apart – take the first test as soon as symptoms appear

You must isolate pending test results.

Even after a negative test, if you still have symptoms, you should continue to wear a mask until symptoms resolve; while you may not have COVID-19 you may still infect others with your illness.

If you were a close contact but have no symptoms, you must do one of the following:

  • Take a PCR test at Day 6 (where the day of close contact counts as Day Zero)

or

  • Test on the day you find out you are a close contact, test a second time 48 hours after and a third time 48 hours after the second test
  • For students, the Student Health Center at 916 S. Wabash provides PCR tests with results usually within 24 hours (please call ahead to arrange for testing);
  • For employees and students, the CareATC testing facility at 600 S. Michigan offers PCR tests and usually provides results within 48 hours.
  • Students and employees can access tests on campus even if they are symptomatic.

Note that if you are positive with a rapid test, there is no need for a PCR test and serial rapid antigen/home tests.

Please know that supervisors (in the case of employees) and faculty or staff (in the case of students) could ask you to leave the office or class if you are obviously symptomatic and have not had a negative test.

Per the CDC, people with these symptoms may have COVID-19:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

DETAILS ON PRECAUTIONS AT VARIOUS COVID RISK LEVELS

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When the COVID-19 risk is high

Masks will be required everywhere on campus. 

In consultation with departments and the faculty teaching a class, the Office of the Provost may grant masking exceptions for certain class sessions or activities. No unmasking can take place unless officially sanctioned by the Office of the Provost.

At this risk level, food and beverages at events and meetings should take the form of a boxed meal that participants may carry to a separate space during a meal break if they wish to eat isolated from others, or on a “to-go” basis for participants to take with them after the meeting or event.

Field trips must be planned to avoid communal eating by participants.

Third parties renting college spaces may serve food inside the space they rent at this risk level, provided no Columbia employees or students are mandated to attend who are not comfortable being in a mixed-masking environment. Similarly, third parties renting college spaces may set their own masking protocols for the event at this risk level, provided it does not violate any government order and provided no Columbia employees or students are mandated to attend who are not comfortable being in a mixed-masking environment.

The universal masking requirement and the food protocol will be in effect until the city is at “medium” risk for three weeks and cases remain below 35 a week on campus for three weeks.

When the COVID-19 risk is medium

Masks will be required in all instructional settings* and will be optional elsewhere.

*“Instructional setting” is defined as classrooms as well as spaces where formal interactions between college employees and students take place – this includes classrooms, studios and fabrication spaces ( see the full list ) and off-campus indoor locations where instruction takes place—or where employees and students meet for appointments or where students drop in for support services. At the library, individuals should be masked when checking out books or meeting with staff, but can be unmasked in the book stacks, at computer stations and in the reading or study spaces.

Note that the college will go from “low” to “high” as key thresholds are met, but numbers will need to be at “medium” for three weeks before the college will go from “high” to “medium” precautions.

Individuals must be masked at all times when visiting the Student Health Center, the campus COVID-19 testing facility, or CareATC.

Classroom masking exceptions may be granted by the Office of the Provost as described above.

Food will be allowed at college events or meetings at the medium risk level under the following conditions: Plated or buffet-style food is allowed at events and meetings but must follow (and not coincide with) any presentation or program or formal meeting, and where possible should be served in a separate part of the space or different space. Consider boxed meals as an alternative so people can eat isolated from others if they wish.

Field trips should be planned to avoid communal eating by participants when possible.

Third parties renting college spaces may serve food inside the space they rent at this risk level, provided no Columbia employees or students are mandated to attend who are not comfortable being in a mixed-masking environment. Similarly, third parties renting college spaces may set their own masking protocols for the event at this risk level, provided it does not violate any government order and provided no Columbia employees or students are mandated to attend who are not comfortable being in a mixed-masking environment.

For the college to go from the “medium” level to the “low” level, the city must be at “low” risk for four weeks and weekly campus COVID-19 cases must be below 10 for four weeks.

When the COVID-19 risk is low

Masking will be optional across campus indoor settings when. 

There are no restrictions on food on campus or on field trips.

To go to this level of “low” from “medium,” the city must be at “low” risk for four weeks and weekly campus COVID-19 cases must be 10 or fewer for four weeks.

Masking may continue in some instructional settings. The college will continue to discuss with campus stakeholders possible continued masking requirements in some instructional settings at this level.

These precautions are subject to change based on the health situation and government guidance.