Campus Reopening Plan

Last updated: January 7, 2021

Designed to promote safety and guide the return of students and colleagues to workspaces, classrooms, and residence halls, this 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 orders and guidance from federal, state, and local authorities; public health bodies, including the Chicago and Illinois departments of public health and 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. We also have incorporated guidance from the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins University.

The plan reflects the work of the college’s Incident Assessment Task Force (IATF), a standing group of administrators from offices 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.

It incorporates policy input from the president’s cabinet and feedback collected in campus forums; in meetings with student leaders, USofCC leadership, CFAC leadership, and the executive committee of the Faculty Senate; and via the Campus Reopening Task Force (CRTF), which is comprised of members of the IATF and representatives of the Faculty Senate, CFAC, and USofCC.

In addition, this plan draws on consultations with other colleges and universities, a review of trends across higher education and beyond, and perspectives from other college stakeholders.

Even under this plan, some elements of our pandemic management and campus reopening protocols remain under development. All provisions are subject to revision in response to government mandates, updated public health guidelines, altered circumstances, and ongoing engagement with the campus community through the Campus Reopening Task Force and in additional forums and conversations. Additional employee forums will be scheduled to solicit additional feedback, and student meetings will be held during the academic year.

Enhanced Disinfection and Cleaning

The campus has been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. Stepped-up disinfection and cleaning of our facilities is a 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, Do-It-Yourself (DIY) cleaning supplies are available across campus so that employees and students can supplement the cleaning crews’ efforts by cleaning the spaces and equipment that they use.

  • The majority of the cleaning staff have been reallocated to the day shift so that they can focus on high-traffic areas and high-traffic times.
  • All facilities, offices, studio spaces, break rooms, classrooms, lobbies, elevators, and restrooms receive comprehensive daily cleanings and disinfection according to CDC guidance.
  • College cleaning crews clean high-touch surfaces several times a day using a disinfection solution. These include cleaning light switches, doorknobs, handrails, elevator buttons, faucets, dispensers, toilet handles, refrigerator handles, and microwave doors.
  • Heating and cooling diffusers have been inspected and cleaned.
  • OSHA-recommended air filters have been replaced on all systems.
  • There are nearly 200 hand sanitizing stations on campus.
  • Touchless faucets have been installed in bathrooms.
  • The college has added more touchless paper-towel dispensers.
  • Special sanitizing protocols for the checkout and return of instructional equipment have been instituted. These have been developed in academic departments in collaboration with the Facilities department.
  • Members of the campus community are encouraged to avail themselves of wipes and disinfectants that the college has in learning spaces, workstations, restrooms, and other areas so they can clean tools, other equipment, and office technology such as keyboards and phones that are shared.
  • Employees and students are also encouraged to use DIY cleaning supplies to wipe down surfaces and other areas as they choose.
  • We use posters and other communications to promote social distancing, the use of face coverings, and proper hygiene, including frequent handwashing and avoiding touching one’s face.

Social Distancing

Social distancing is recommended by public health authorities as the most effective single method to help prevent the spread and contraction of COVID-19. Therefore, the organizing principle of many of the policies and guidelines surrounding the reopening of the campus are 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 means first and foremost limiting the number of people on campus at any given time. We achieve this by delivering courses through a hybrid of in-person and remote instruction and by allowing some employees to continue to work from home. The other critical element is providing for six-foot distancing wherever possible when people are occupying the same space.

Here is what social distancing looks like at Columbia:

  • Face coverings are required in all classrooms, except in exceptional circumstances driven by pedagogy where other precautions are in effect. In these situations, there are limitations on the duration of such interactions and on the number of participants involved. Any exception made for wearing face coverings in the classroom must be approved by the Provost's Office.
  • Six-foot distancing wherever possible within employee workspaces, lobbies, and other common areas.
  • A continued emphasis on telework.
    • Some employees continue to work remotely all or some of the time. Those employees who do come to work do so in alternating and staggered shifts, working no less than six feet apart from each other wherever possible, supplemented by face coverings (or personal protective equipment as appropriate) when a six-foot distance cannot be maintained.
    • Managers determine who is needed on campus and when, and work with Facilities to provide six-foot distancing in work areas.
    • Meetings that cannot take place with six-foot distancing and with participants wearing face masks are held via audio or video conference.

New foot traffic flows:


  • We have designated some lobby doors as entrance only and others as exit only. We have spacing markers in lobbies and circulation-flow markers in high-traffic areas.


  • In buildings with multiple stairways, we have designated some stairwells as up, and others as down (except in the event of building emergencies). 
  • Where only one stairwell is available, one side has been designated as the way up, and the other as the way down. 


  • Elevators operate at reduced capacity. Maximum capacity is posted by each elevator bank. For most elevators, except for a few newer, larger elevators on campus, this means four riders, one in each corner, wearing face coverings.
  • Users should, if possible, avoid using their hands to push elevator buttons. As with other high-touch surfaces, users who touch a button or elevator surface should avoid touching their face and should wash or sanitize their hands upon exiting the elevator.

Residence Halls

In the residence halls, we promote social distancing by assigning students one to a bedroom. We have reconfigured or eliminated some common areas, and modified laundry-room use patterns so that six-foot distancing is in effect, and restricted guest access. In the event that a student in the residence halls contracts COVID-19 and does not require hospitalization, we designate special rooms for them, stocked with supplies, and arrange for food delivery and wellness services. We also reserve rooms for residence hall students who, per CDC guidelines, should self-isolate because they have been in close contact with a person who has COVID-19. (For the definition of “close contact”, see below under “Screenings”.) Student Health Services and Residence Life staff will remain in close communication with these impacted students, whose well-being is our top priority.

Other social distancing measures:

  • The college has installed protective shields in front of high-traffic-area desks. Departments or employees wishing to have such a shield installed should contact Facilities for an evaluation of the request.
  • We instituted and posted revised occupancy limits for buildings, meeting rooms, and other communal spaces.
  • There is no shared food and beverages allowed in meetings and public spaces.
  • Library materials are isolated for 72 hours after their use before being returned to circulation, and student/faculty access to stacks are limited; librarians retrieve items for patrons.


  • Employees who are requested by their supervisor to return to work on campus, cannot fulfill their duties by working remotely, and are deemed (per CDC guidelines) at higher risk for severe illness in the event of COVID-19 infection may request a temporary reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These individuals should contact Human Resources at (for employees) or Services for Students with Disabilities (for students).
  • Living with someone at high risk for severe illness in the event of COVID-19 infection does not in and of itself confer eligibility for a temporary reasonable accommodation. However, the college will endeavor to allow such employees to work remotely if, in the estimation of their supervisor, they can still fulfill their essential duties. An employee who is acting as a caretaker for an individual at high risk for severe illness in the event of COVID-19 infection may also be eligible to use available paid leave benefits such as Caregiver Leave or Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave. These individuals should contact Human Resources regarding an accommodation.
  • Employees who are ordinarily expected to work on campus by their supervisor, experience COVID-19-related child-care complications, and cannot fulfill their duties by working remotely will be eligible to take up to four weeks of leave. In consultation with HR and with the approval of their supervisor, an employee may take leave intermittently over the four-week period. The employee must apply all available paid time off (vacation, personal, or sick time) to the leave. Employees will retain their eligibility for health care and other college benefits during the leave; they will still be responsible for the employee portion of their health care premiums during any portion of the leave that is unpaid. If the childcare situation is unresolved at the end of the leave, the employee can extend it for an additional four weeks and should contact HR about next steps.
  • Individuals who report they are unable to wear a face covering due to a medical condition should engage in the ADA interactive process by contact Human Resources (for employees) or Services for Students with Disabilities (for students).


Per the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) guidance, employees, students, visitors, and contractors should not travel to Columbia’s campus – or, in the case of students and staff in residence halls, travel to another campus building – if any of the following apply to them:

  • They are experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19 as defined by CDPH, including:
    • a body temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit or you have used a fever reducer in the previous 24 hours to treat a body temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
    • a new cough that you cannot attribute to another health condition.
    • a new or worsening sore throat that you cannot attribute to another health condition.
    • new shortness of breath that you cannot attribute to another health condition.
    • recently developed a complete loss of smell or taste.
    • have had unprotected close contact with anyone who has been diagnosed or suspected of having COVID-19 in the past 10 days. For the purposes of its protocols and practices, the college draws on guidance from the CDC and the Mayo Clinic and considers “close contact” to mean contact at a distance within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period. Such close contacts are mitigated if the sick or symptomatic individual was wearing a face covering, but should still be reported.

Individuals planning to travel to campus, or students and staff in residence halls planning to travel to another campus building, are encouraged to self-screen for the above COVID-19 symptoms, including with a temperature check, before doing so. Individuals planning to visit campus for in person for any reason should review the Spring Return to Campus Testing Requirements before coming to campus.

As always, anyone who suspects that they may have COVID-19 (or any other illness) should seek medical attention. Students who suspect that they are infected should contact the Student Health Center at 312-369-6830 to make provisions for their care. There will be no walk-ins at the Student Health Center until further notice.

The college continues to monitor changes in government guidance on this subject and will adjust screening recommendations as appropriate.

Daily Attestations

Before their initial entry or return to college property following the reopening of campus, all employees, students, visitors, and contractors will be required to complete the Daily Pre-Check regarding their health as it relates to COVID-19 symptoms or possible exposure to the virus. They will also be asked to affirm that they will not travel to campus (or, in the case of students and staff in residence halls, travel to another campus facility) if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, have tested positive for COVID-19, have been in close contact with someone who has symptoms or is sick, have complied with the college's testing requirement, and if they have traveled to a state listed on the City of Chicago Emergency Travel Order.

Return to campus for sick individuals 

In accordance with guidelines promulgated by the CDPH, individuals who contract COVID-19 have to stipulate that they have recovered before returning to campus.

Patients symptomatic with COVID-19 can only return if they meet the following conditions and provide HR (for employees) and Student Relations (for students) with an attestation to that effect:

  • At least 24 hours have passed since recovery, defined as the resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath); and,
  • At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.

Asymptomatic patients with a laboratory-confirmed positive COVID-19 test can only return if they meet the following condition and provide HR with an attestation to that effect:

  • Ten days have passed since the date of their first positive COVID-19 diagnostic test, and they have not subsequently developed symptoms since their positive test.

These requirements also apply to contractors and other visitors to campus, who should provide the attestation to the campus department overseeing their work.

Face Coverings

Face coverings are an essential complementary element of curbing the spread of COVID-19. The CDC states, “When in public, wear a cloth face covering over your nose and mouth.” The Illinois Department of Public Health states, “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 a face covering primarily protects those in the vicinity of its wearer, a face covering system only works if everyone wears them. For this reason, Columbia requires everyone on college property to wear a face covering, including at all times in classrooms, shared workspaces, or common areas.

Students are not required to wear a face covering in their residence hall bedroom or when alone in their suite’s restroom, but are required to wear a face covering in all other residence life spaces.

Persons without a face covering are not allowed to enter campus buildings. This policy applies to all visitors and contractors on campus, and students and employees are subject to discipline for violations.

In addition, persons wearing face coverings with exhalation vents or valves are not allowed to enter campus buildings. According to health authorities such as the CDC and the Mayo Clinic, face coverings with vents or exhalation valves allow unfiltered exhaled air to escape. The Mayo Clinic does not allow people wearing them in its buildings because such masks are an “unacceptable form of source control as a universal mask.”

These requirements promote the health of our community, allow students and employees to move in and out of buildings without undue disruption, and facilitate the efficient use of elevators on our largely vertical campus.

For this reason, Columbia procured a supply of cloth face coverings for a one-time distribution to students and employees, with everyone receiving two face coverings. Face coverings were mailed to employees and distributed on campus to students in the fall semester.

Individuals who report that they are unable to wear a face covering due to a medical condition should engage in the ADA interactive process by contacting Human Resources (for employees) or Services for Students with Disabilities (for students).

Tracing and Testing

Since early March, Columbia has had a protocol for members of the campus community to inform 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. Campus Safety and Security personnel has undergone the Johns Hopkins contact tracing training, and also relies on a protocol developed by the Chicago Department of Public Health to identify and inform members of the campus community who may have been exposed to individuals who meet the above criteria, and to determine if other members of the community need to be notified that they may need to take precautions as a result of contact with a person who has COVID-19 symptoms, has been diagnosed or has tested positive.

We continue to support public health authorities and provide appropriate assistance with contact tracing.

Testing takes place at 618 S. Michigan by appointment only. Student Health Center testing for symptomatic students seen by Student Health Center personnel takes place at 916 S. Wabash Ave. Note: There is no walk-in testing. All testing requires either an appointment or a referral from the Student Health Center. For up-to-date information, visit the COVID-19 Case Updates and Testing Information page. 


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 developed an online training that all employees and students are required to take before entering the campus for the first time following its reopening. This is an informative training that covers 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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Some elements of our reopening protocols and response to the pandemic remain under development, and all provisions are subject to revision in response to available evidence, government mandates, altered circumstances, and ongoing engagement with the campus community in the form of the Campus Reopening Task Force and additional forums and conversations.