The following plan reflects the work of the college’s Incident Assessment Task Force (IATF), with policy input from the president’s cabinet, to guide the safe return of students and colleagues to workspaces, classrooms, and residence halls. The IATF is a standing group of administrators from across campus, including Safety and Security, Facilities, Human Resources, IT, Student Affairs, Columbia Central, the General Counsel’s Office, the Provost’s Office, and the President’s Office. In developing the plan, the IATF and the cabinet have drawn on orders and guidance from government entities, consultations with other colleges and universities, a review of trends across higher education and beyond, and perspectives from campus stakeholders. The release of the plan will be followed by formal presentations to employee groups to solicit additional feedback.
The plan sets out policies, protocols, and guidelines in the following categories that are intended to promote the health and safety of the members of the campus community:
These measures incorporate guidance from local and national health authorities, including the Chicago and Illinois departments of public health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In preparation for re-opening, the entire campus has been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, and stepped-up disinfection and cleaning of our facilities will be an ongoing feature of our facilities maintenance program going forward.
Because we all have a vital role to play in promoting our own safety and that of others, we also plan on making cleaning supplies available across campus so that employees and students can supplement the cleaning crews’ efforts by cleaning the spaces and equipment they use.
Social distancing is recommended by health authorities as the most effective single method of avoiding the spread and contraction of COVID-19. Therefore, the organizing principle of many of the policies and guidelines surrounding the re-opening of the campus will be to ensure the maintenance of social distancing in classrooms, offices, and residence halls.
Per CDC guidance, employees and students should not leave their residence to travel to a class or campus office if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, have tested positive, or have been in close contact with someone who has symptoms or is sick.
At Columbia, social distancing will mean first and foremost limiting the number of people on campus at any given time; we will do this by delivering courses through a hybrid of in-person and remote instruction and having some employees continue to work from home. (It should be noted that as Governor Pritzker’s order now stands, gatherings of more than 50 people will not be allowed for the foreseeable future.) The other critical element is allowing for six-foot distancing wherever possible when people are occupying the same space.
Here is what we expect social distancing will look like at Columbia:
Per CDC guidance, employees and students should not come to campus if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or if they have tested positive, or if they have been in close contact with someone who has symptoms or is sick.
As always, anyone who suspects they may have COVID-19 (or any other illness) should seek medical attention. For students, the Student Health Center is available for them to seek such attention, though if a student suspects they are ill, they should call the Health Center rather than visit in person.
All employees and students, as well as visitors and contractors, will be required to attest (via an electronic form), before they return to or first enter college property, that for the remainder of their tenure at Columbia (or until this policy is rescinded, whichever comes first), they will not come to campus if any of the following apply to them:
Everyone should self-screen on a daily basis before coming to campus.
In addition, the college is exploring the advisability and feasibility of temperature scans as employees and students enter college property. The equipment we are evaluating is designed to check for a fever in individuals from a six-foot distance and to not impede foot traffic capacity for more than a few seconds per person. While not all people who are infected have a fever, the CDC has found that a fever is the most common symptom of COVID-19. Over the summer, a small pilot will be conducted involving employees who already are coming to campus, and we will make a final determination after we evaluate its results.
Return to campus for sick individuals
Following guidelines promulgated by the Chicago Department of Health (CDPH), individuals who are sick will have to stipulate they have recovered before returning to campus. CDPH has published two different methods for doing so: one is based on the absence of symptoms following illness, and the other one follows the same approach but layers on a negative-test requirement. The college is further evaluating which process to adopt.
Face coverings are an essential complementary element of curbing the spread of COVID-19. The CDC says, “When in public, wear a cloth face covering over your nose and mouth.” The Illinois Department of Public Health says, “All Illinoisans should wear a mask or face covering when they must leave their home or report to work for essential operations and they either cannot or it is impractical to maintain 6 feet of physical distance between themselves and others.”
Because face coverings are designed to protect primarily those around them, a face covering system only works if everyone wears them. For this reason, Columbia will require everyone on college property to wear a face covering, except in a classroom, workspace, dorm room or common area where six-foot distancing is in effect. Persons without a face covering will not be allowed to enter campus buildings. This face covering policy will apply to all visitors and contractors on campus.
This requirement will not only promote the health of our community, but will make it possible for students and employees to move without undue disruption in and out of buildings, and allow for the efficient use of elevators on our mostly vertical campus.
For this reason, Columbia is working on procuring a supply of cloth face coverings for a one-time distribution to members of the community who wish to receive one.
Individuals who are unable to wear a face covering due to a medical condition should contact Human Resources (for employees) or Services for Students with Disabilities (for students).
Since early March, Columbia has had a protocol for members of the campus community to report to Campus Safety and Security if they have tested positive for COVID-19, are experiencing symptoms, or have come in close contact with someone who is sick or is experiencing symptoms. Doing so helps improve safety, and the protocol has been used to provide important notifications.
It is important for everyone to note that the CDC defines “close contact” as “an individual who has had close contact (< 6 feet) for a prolonged period of time” with someone who tested positive or has symptoms, depending on whether the individual “was wearing a facemask (which can efficiently block respiratory secretions from contaminating others and the environment).”
We will support public health authorities and provide appropriate assistance with contact tracing.
The more widespread availability of testing for COVID-19 is a key ingredient in the re-opening plans announced by both the Governor of Illinois and the Mayor of Chicago. In particular, under Phase 4 of the State of Illinois’ Plan, colleges and universities will not re-open until the State can ensure that “testing available [is] available [in their general area] regardless of symptoms or risk factors.” The Governor’s plan therefore assumes that, when Columbia re-opens, testing will be widely available. Because of this, Columbia does not plan to undertake routine testing of its employees and students.
To ensure that all members of the campus community possess a good working knowledge of COVID-19, associated precautions against infection, and campus policies and procedures concerning the pandemic, Columbia is developing online training that all employees and students will be required to take before entering the campus for the first time following its re-opening. This will be a quick and informative training that will cover such issues as what COVID-19’s symptoms are, how it spreads, how one protects against it, and what one does if one has symptoms or tests positive for it, as well as the proper use of face coverings and other pandemic-related campus procedures and expectations.
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Even under this comprehensive plan, some elements of our re-opening protocols and response to the pandemic remain under development, and all of its provisions are subject to revision in response to available evidence, government mandates, and altered circumstances. As we engage in this process of review and refinement, and as the campus community starts to live with the new measures, we will brief and seek input from the faculty and other employees, beginning with a community Zoom forum to be scheduled in the near future, and continuing with communications and meetings with the Faculty Senate and the unions representing staff and part-time faculty.