COVID-19 Precautions for Fall 2022

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


To reflect new CDC and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance about COVID-19 regarding quarantine and testing that was issued on August 11, the college updated the COVID-19 protocols announced on August 5 to be consistent with federal guidelines. We also provide 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 when the city officially designates the COVID-19 risk level as “high” or if the campus is seeing more than 35 cases per week.

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

When the city officially designates the COVID-19 risk as “medium” and weekly COVID-19 cases on campus are below 35, 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 the city’s risk level is at “low” and campus COVID-19 weekly cases are below 10.

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 below 10 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.