COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus): Frequently Asked Questions

By
Columbia Health
March 26, 2020

Columbia University continues to closely follow the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 can lead to fever, cough, fatigue, and shortness of breath and is a viral strain that had not been found in humans before. 

The well-being of our community is a top priority for Columbia University and we are actively monitoring the situation. Columbia affiliates may call the Columbia Health hotline at 212-854-9355 for information as well as guidance on symptoms, testing, and treatment.

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? 

  • All classes are occurring in an online format.

  • The university is open for essential personnel only . Many services are reduced or closed.  Contact the specific University department to learn about service adjustments.

  • The University strongly encourages social distancing.

  • Community transmission means that COVID-19 is circulating widely in NYC and that we should act as if we are all exposed. If you are sick, you must stay home. All New Yorkers must monitor their health carefully at this time.
  • 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. 

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 Health, New York State Department of Health, the 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. 

  • Seek prompt medical evaluation if you have fever, cough, or shortness of breath.  Students should call the Columbia Health hotline at 212-854-9355 for guidance.  Faculty and staff should call their primary care provider. 

  • Following the guidance of the CDC and US State Department, the University has implemented restrictions regarding travel.  All Columbia-related travel, international and domestic, is suspended.  

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

  • Students with questions should call the Columbia Health hotline at 212-854-9355 for guidance.  Faculty and staff should call their primary care provider.  For general questions not addressed by this FAQ, please call 212-854-9355.
     
  • See below for more detailed information.

COVID-19 in New York City

The declaration of a state of emergency means there is an event or situation happening that requires a coordinated response.  By declaring a state of emergency resources are made available to focus a unified response to support the public well-being.  As Governor Cuomo noted, this declaration allow (among other things):

  • Expedited procurement of cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer and other essential resources
  • Allowing qualified professionals other than doctors and nurses to conduct testing
  • Expedited procurement of testing supplies and equipment
  • Expedited personnel onboarding
  • Expedited leasing of lab space
  • Allowing EMS personnel to transport patients to quarantine locations other than just hospitals
  • Providing clear basis for price gouging and enforcement investigation

As noted by the CDC, American Hospital Association, along with federal and state health authorities, all hospitals should be prepared to see patients and we expect that our team of experts in our excellent facilities at New York Presbyterian would provide care. 

The hospital is prepared to care for COVID-19 patients and has procedures in place to protect health care workers.

About COVID-19

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses such as the common cold, and more severe illnesses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and COVID-19. Coronaviruses commonly circulate in animals and sometimes also infect humans.

Downloadable Resources
(please feel free to share with peers and colleagues or post in shared spaces)

Fact sheet 1: What is coronavirus?

Fact sheet 2: How to protect yourself from coronavirus

Fact sheet 3: Social distancing

Fact sheet 4: Face coverings

Advisory for Work in Public Safety

Advisory for Essential Work in Research Labs

While COVID-2019 is believed to have originated from animals, the virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person:

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another (prolonged face to face contact within about 6 feet).
  • Via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and landing in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly inhaled into the lungs.

It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

People are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest). Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms; there have been reports of this with this new coronavirus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

The current evidence suggests a typical incubation period (time from exposure of the virus to the development of symptoms) as 2 to 14 days.

Symptoms related to COVID-19 include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • runny nose
  • difficulty breathing

In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia and other complications, especially in infants, older individuals, and in those with underlying health conditions.

COVID-19 symptoms and cold/flu symptoms are similar. 

Students that have symptoms of fever, cough, breathing challenges, and are feeling concerned should call the Columbia Health hotline at 212-854-9355. Faculty and staff should call their primary care provider or use the tools on the Human Resources website.  

Please also exercise the usual precautions associated with seasonal illnesses like colds and flu.

  • Stay home to rest and drink plenty of fluids
  • Contact your health care provider (see above) for guidance
  • Limit contact with other household members
  • Do not share items like drinking glasses, towels, eating utensils.
  • Wipe down high touch surfaces (e.g. doorknobs, telephones, remote controls, and bathroom surfaces) often with a standard household disinfectant such as Clorox® wipes.

As shared by the World Health Organization, a pandemic is defined as “an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people.”

Citation: Last JM, editor. A dictionary of epidemiology, 4th edition. New York: Oxford University Press; 2001.

Prevention

While there is still much that is unknown about this virus, the prevention steps we use during each cold and flu season are helpful now. Use the following to help reduce the risk for infection: 

  • Wash your hands often using soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you’ve touched someone who is sick.  If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are experiencing symptoms. 

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. 

  • If you have cold and cough symptoms, make sure to cover your coughs and sneezes by using the bend of your arm (elbow) or using disposable tissues and immediately disposing of them in the trash. 

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces

NO!  Masks are only recommended for those with symptoms. 

The Department of Health and CDC are not  recommending masks to prevent transmission of this virus. 

Distributing and wearing masks when not clinically indicated diverts key resources from essential areas and may cause unnecessary public alarm.  Columbia is only using masks in indicated clinical environments and is not offering masks outside of these specific medical service locations. Should the evidence-informed guidance change the University will adjust protocols as appropriate.

No. Standard cleaning with common household disinfectants (such as Clorox® wipes) should be sufficient.  As is recommended each year during cold and flu season, be sure to clean high touch areas (e.g. doorknobs, telephones, remote controls, and bathroom surfaces) regularly.

Currently, there is no vaccine available to protect against COVID-19.

Testing & Treatment

The testing capacity continues to increase, with the labs operated by the New York State and New York City. Departments of Health both conducting tests, and commercial labs beginning to have availability.

After following the evidence-informed screening protocols, recommended testing occurs with healthcare providers collecting a specimen and sending to an approved lab for testing.

The CDC and Department of Health continue to review and issue updated guidance on who should be tested.  Columbia is following these guidelines and will adjust should the information change.

Testing when not clinically indicated diverts essential resources from where they are most needed. Should the evidence-informed guidance change, the University will adjust protocols as appropriate.

If you develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath, within 14 days after travel from an impacted region, or close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, please contact your healthcare provider and mention your recent travel or close contact.  Your provider will use the most recent guidance from local, state, and federal authorities to determine if you need to be tested.

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a directive requiring health insurers in New York to waive cost sharing (co-pays & co-insurance) associated with in-network COVID-19 testing, including emergency room, office visits, and urgent care visits.

Currently all COVID-19 tests being conducted at the State's Wadsworth Lab are fully covered. 

Students on the Columbia University Aetna Student Health Plan

Aetna Student Health will waive co-insurance for all diagnostic testing related to COVID-19. This policy will cover the test kit for patients who meet CDC guidelines for testing. Aetna will waive the member costs associated with diagnostic testing at any authorized location.

Through existing care management programs, Aetna will proactively reach out to members most at-risk for COVID-19. Care managers will walk members through what they can do to protect themselves, where to get information on the virus, and where to go to get tested if clinically indicated.

Should it occur, hospitalizations will be treated as any other sickness and paid according the plan design.

Students not on the Columbia Plan and Faculty/Staff

Please contact your insurance company with questions related to coverage for COVID-19 related care.

There is no specific antiviral treatment recommended for COVID-19 infection. People infected with COVID-19 are treated with supportive care to help relieve symptoms.

Exposure & Community Concern

Self-monitor for COVID-19-like illness vigilantly for 14 days from the date of last contact with the ill person. 

Seek prompt medical evaluation if you have fever, cough, or shortness of breath.  Students should call the Columbia Health hotline at 212-854-9355.  Faculty and staff should call their primary care provider.

Self-monitor for COVID-19-like illness vigilantly for 14 days from the date of last contact with the ill person. Isolate yourself if you develop symptoms and call 212-854-9355 for guidance.

If you were to be a confirmed contact (prolonged face to face contact) of someone diagnosed with COVID-19, you would be contacted by the local Department of Health and be given guidance on what steps are recommended or required.  Seek prompt medical evaluation if you have fever, cough, or shortness of breath.  Students should call the Columbia Health hotline at 212-854-9355. Faculty and staff should call their primary care provider. 

The emergence of a new virus can cause worry and its natural.  While gathering information from reputable sources and being properly informed can help, some people may need additional support. 

Check out the range of coping tools available from Columbia Health, including hotlines, apps, and online resources. 

For individuals with a higher risk for complications, please refer to the CDC's guidance.

If they have a fever, cough, or shortness of breath they should seek medical care immediately. Before going to the provider’s office or emergency room, have them call ahead and tell them about any recent travel and current symptoms. Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available. 

Students with questions should call the Columbia Health hotline at 212-854-9355.  Faculty and staff should call their primary care provider. 

There is no additional action required on your part if you were not also in an impacted region or had direct close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19. 

Given the time of year (cold and flu season), please remember the following prevention strategies:

  • Wash your hands often using soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you’ve touched someone who is sick.  If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are experiencing symptoms. 
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. 
  • If you have cold and cough symptoms, make sure to cover your coughs and sneezes by using the bend of your arm (elbow) or using disposable tissues and immediately disposing of them in the trash. 
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces

Students with questions should call the Columbia Health hotline at 212-854-9355.  Faculty and staff should call their primary care provider.  For general questions not addressed by this FAQ, call the Columbia Health hotline at 212-854-9355 for guidance.

If you have a fever, cough, or shortness of breath: 

  • Seek medical care immediately. Before you go to your primary care provider’s office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms.  
  • Students can contact the Columbia Health hotline at 212-854-9355 for an evaluation and recommendations. Faculty, staff, and visitors with concerns should contact their primary care provider or Columbia Health.
  • Stay home unless you are going to seek medical care, avoid contact with others.
  • Avoid further travel until the illness resolves. 
  • Wear a mask if you need to leave your home when sick. 
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing. 
  • Wash hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available. 
  • Do not attend classes or participate in other campus activities.  Contact your academic advisor or department regarding your classes and assignments. 

If you have no symptoms: 

  • Monitor your temperature and contact a health care provider if you develop a fever or other symptoms.
  • Wash hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • You do NOT need to wear a mask if you have no symptoms. 

Students with questions should call the Columbia Health hotline at 212-854-9355.  Faculty and staff should call their primary care provider.  For general questions not addressed by this FAQ, call the Columbia Health hotline at 212-854-9355 for guidance.

Quarantine, Isolation, & Self-Isolation

A recommendation for self-isolation serves to temporarily separate people who have been in an area of public health concern to help protect their health and that of their community.  This technique was used for returning travelers from countries with high rates of COVID-19. In most cases where self-isolation is recommended, most people willingly comply to support their personal health and the broader community well-being.

Quarantine in general means the separation of a person or group of people reasonably believed to have been exposed to a communicable disease but not yet symptomatic, from others who have not been so exposed, to prevent the possible spread of the communicable disease. A mandatory quarantine is a formal, binding requirement for someone to be separated from other contacts in the interest of public health and may be enforced. Decisions to implement a mandatory quarantine are made by public health officials. Columbia University is closely monitoring guidelines from the relevant authorities and will follow all mandatory quarantine protocols if and when they are required.

Isolation means the separation of a person or group of people known or reasonably believed to be infected with a communicable disease and potentially infectious from those who are not infected to prevent spread of the communicable disease. Isolation for public health purposes may be voluntary or compelled by federal, state, or local public health order.

Currently self-isolation or quarantine recommendations are made on a case-by-case basis depending on exposure and risk factors. In many cases, a recommendation to self-isolate is being made out of an abundance of caution, particularly for those at higher-risk for complications. 

If you have questions, please contact Columbia Health at 212-854-9355 (students) or your primary care provider (faculty/staff).

Generally speaking a recommendation means you should stay in your room/apartment and avoid contact with others.  More specifically:

  • Stay home — in your room, your apartment, or your house. Do not go to work, classes, athletic events, or other social gatherings.
  • If you are living in a shared accommodation, do not spend time in shared living spaces and limit contact with those you live with. If you are unable to do this (or live in a double room), contact Columbia Health at 212-854-9355 for assistance with options.
  • Arrange for food to be delivered via friends, Columbia Dining, grocery delivery services, etc.; if you have concerns about this, please contact Columbia Health at 212-854-9355 for assistance.
  • Avoid sharing household items. Do not share drinking glasses, towels, eating utensils, bedding, or any other items until you are no longer asked to self-isolate.
  • Wipe down high touch surfaces (e.g. doorknobs, telephones, remote controls, and bathroom surfaces) often with a standard household disinfectant such as Clorox® wipes.
  • Monitor your temperature twice a day.
  • Let us know right away if you develop fever, cough or difficulty breathing by calling 212-854-9355. 
  • Be in touch with your professors and academic advisors so you can make the appropriate arrangements.

Generally speaking, a recommendation means you should stay home and avoid contact with others.  More specifically:

  • Contact your supervisor and local human resources officer who will notify CUHR Leave Management. 
  • Contact your primary care provider immediately if you begin to experience fever, cough, or difficulty breathing. 
  • Stay home. Do not go to work, events, or other social gatherings.
  • If you live with others, do not spend time in shared living spaces and limit contact with those you live with.
  • If you live with others, avoid sharing household items. Do not share drinking glasses, towels, eating utensils, bedding, or any other items until you are no longer asked to self-isolate.
  • Arrange for food to be delivered via friends, grocery delivery services, etc.
  • Wipe down high touch surfaces (e.g. doorknobs, telephones, remote controls, and bathroom surfaces) often with a standard household disinfectant such as Clorox® wipes.
  • Monitor your temperature twice a day.
  • You are expected to work remotely, if able.  Stay in daily contact with your supervisor and local HR.  While complying with a self-isolation advice, you will still be paid for standard work hours.
Self-Isolation

If a roommate or suitemate received a recommendation to self-isolate it does not necessarily mean you have an increased risk.  If your residential set up includes individual bedrooms, the person self-isolating should spend most of their time in that space.  Self-isolating individuals can use common spaces but should aim to do so when others are not in the shared areas (living rooms, bathrooms, kitchens, etc.).

If the living situation does not have individual bedrooms, contact Columbia Health at 212-854-9355 for recommendations.

Quarantine

If a roommate or suitemate received a recommendation to quarantine it does not necessarily mean you have an increased risk.  If your residential set up includes shared common spaces and bathrooms, your roommate will be move to a different accommodation.

If the living situation does not have individual bedrooms, contact Columbia Health at 212-854-9355 for recommendations.

If someone you live with has been required or recommended to quarantine, you should consider if you can separate from them for the isolation period.  We understand this may not be possible.  If not possible, you should then also quarantine and follow the same guidelines:

Students:
  • Stay home — in your room, your apartment, or your house. Do not go to work, classes, athletic events, or other social gatherings.
  • Avoid sharing household items. Do not share drinking glasses, towels, eating utensils, bedding, or any other items until you are no longer asked to self-isolate.
  • Wipe down high touch surfaces (e.g. doorknobs, telephones, remote controls, and bathroom surfaces) often with a standard household disinfectant such as Clorox® wipes.
  • Monitor your temperature twice a day.
  • Let us know right away if you develop fever, cough or difficulty breathing by calling 212-854-9355. 
  • Be in touch with your professors and academic advisors so you can make the appropriate arrangements.
Faculty & Staff:
  • Contact your supervisor and local human resources officer who will notify CUHR Leave Management. 
  • Contact your primary care provider immediately if you begin to experience fever, cough, or difficulty breathing. 
  • Stay home. Do not go to work, events, or other social gatherings.
  • Avoid sharing household items. Do not share drinking glasses, towels, eating utensils, bedding, or any other items until you are no longer asked to self-isolate.
  • Arrange for food to be delivered via friends, grocery delivery services, etc.
  • Wipe down high touch surfaces (e.g. doorknobs, telephones, remote controls, and bathroom surfaces) often with a standard household disinfectant such as Clorox® wipes.
  • Monitor your temperature twice a day.
  • You are expected to work remotely, if able.  Stay in daily contact with your supervisor and local HR.  While complying with a self-isolation advice, you will still be paid for standard work hours.

In general, people who have had a close contact (prolonged face to face contact) with a person diagnosed with COVID-19 do not need to quarantine. Self-monitor for COVID-19-like illness vigilantly for 14 days from the date of last contact with the ill person. Isolate yourself if you develop symptoms and call 212-854-9355 for guidance. 

 

Second degree contacts are people who spend time around someone that had direct contact, or being once removed from a direct contact. 

Check out this visual to help illustrate.

For COVID-19, there are no specific actions or quarantine recommendations for second degree or greater contacts.

Three concentric circles. Person with COVID-19 in innermost circle, followed by first degree contact, followed by second degree contact

If you are worried or received a recommendation to self-isolate, it does not necessarily mean you have an increased risk or would be a higher risk to other household members, particularly if you practice preventive measures and social distancing, which you can do while remaining in your home. Here are key strategies to help:

  • Social distancing means maintaining approximately 6 feet (2 meters) from others when possible and avoiding prolonged face to fact contact.
  • You can use common spaces but should do so when others are not in the shared areas (living rooms, bathrooms, kitchens, etc.).
  • Avoid sharing household items. Do not share drinking glasses, towels, eating utensils, bedding, or any other items.
  • Frequently wipe down high touch surfaces (e.g. doorknobs, telephones, remote controls, and bathroom surfaces) often with a standard household disinfectant such as Clorox® wipes.

Campus Policies

Morningside, Manhattanville, CUIMC Events

In an abundance of caution, the University has now updated our events policy to strongly discourage non-essential events of more than 25 people on all of our campuses in light of rapidly changing information about COVID-19. The University continues to monitor the situation closely and will update you if changes become necessary. 

Campus fitness facilities will remain open for individual use, though group fitness classes will not take place, and there will be increased cleaning of equipment and locker rooms. 

Alumni and Non-Affiliate Events

Many schools and offices at Columbia have postponed social events designed for alumni and non-affiliates, as have many organizations and businesses in New York City.  We anticipate that more of these postponements and cancelations will occur, in part because many people are increasingly reluctant to travel to or participate in “non-essential” events.

General Event Information

For the few events that will occur please remind audience members or attendees about these basic prevention practices in group settings:

  • do not attend if feeling unwell
  • greet each other by bumping elbows instead of shaking hands, hugging, or kissing
  • wash hands with soap and water frequently; use hand sanitizer when not able to wash hands
  • avoid sharing food and drinks
  • sneeze and cough into your elbow

If food or drinks are being served, be sure there are washrooms nearby or make hand sanitizer available if possible. 

If you have reserved space for your event from University Events Management (UEM), you will not be charged for space or catering if the event is cancelled in advance.  Please notify UEM directly by visiting their website or writing to uem@columbia.edu.

To make your planned event virtual, please work with your advisor, school, or department.  The University has access to Zoom to facilitate virtual meetings and forums. 

The University understands that cancelling or postponing events can be disappointing and frustrating.  We appreciate your patience and understanding as we continue to develop and revise policies that maintain health and well-being as a priority.

Campus visitors who were in or transited through China (including Hong Kong), Italy, Iran, Japan, and South Korea within the past 14 days, and those that have had direct close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19, should not visit Columbia until they have self-isolated for at least 14 days after leaving these areas. 

Examples of visitors that should follow this guidance include (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • Guest lecturers
  • Panel speakers and presenters
  • Prospective students
  • Recruiters for job fairs

If you are unsure if the 14-day self-isolation applies, please email Columbia Health for guidance.

To the extent possible, events, programs, and other activities where a visitor has been invited to campus should be replaced with virtual participation options or postponed until a later date.

The University is following guidelines from local, state, and federal authorities on all screening and response protocols. These evidence-informed protocols are the national (and international) standard. It is not logistically possible to screen every student, faculty, staff, and visitor. 

We rely on our community to understand the current situation, take action as guided by this resource, and reach out for clarification as needed. This includes staying home if sick and engaging in the routine preventive measures that have been repeatedly shared.

For international travelers, federal authorities are conducting screenings on departure and arrival and have implemented requirements on individuals traveling from several impacted areas.  Individuals who have traveled to areas of concern and are experiencing symptoms are being screened when seeking care.

For those concerned about domestic spread, prolonged face to face close contact with an infected person is the highest risk factor.  Individuals that have been in contact with a confirmed case are being contacted by the respective Departments of Health and provided guidance.  If you have been in close contact with a confirmed case and not yet heard from the DOH, please call Columbia Health on 212-854-9355.

As the CDC and WHO issue new guidelines related to COVID-19, the University is adjusting clinical protocols accordingly to rapidly identify, evaluate, and support any students at risk. 

Travel

Following the guidance of the CDC and US State Department, the University has implemented travel restrictions.   

Columbia-sponsored travel is suspended for students, faculty, and staff.  All Columbia affiliates are strongly urged to postpone any non-essential travel.  Details of travel restrictions can be found on the University COVID-19 website. The University will also follow all federal requirements regarding community members traveling back to the United States.

  • Columbia University recommends that all affiliates who had direct close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19 or have returned from travel to a CDC Level 3 country in the past 14 days, self-isolate for 14 additional days per the self-isolation guidance below. For travelers returning from a CDC Level 2 country, we ask that you monitor your health and limit interactions with others for 14 days after returning from travel.

Persons who still must travel should make every effort to stay up to date regarding often fast-changing governmental regulations, including Executive Orders and guidance issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Department of State, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

If you are currently outside the United States with plans to travel to campus, please follow the guidance and requirement of federal authorities.  The US Government has put in place restrictions on travelers coming to the United States from or through a number of impacted regions.

Be sure to contact your airline as there have been numerous changes to commercial air travel. Also remember to register all university travel.

Letters to facilitate travel refunds

Columbia Health is unable to issue letters on behalf of students seeking travel refunds due to cancelled or postponed travel due to the COVID-19 outbreak, unless the cancellation was due to you being diagnosed by Columbia Health with COVID-19.

If this is University-related travel, please contact your school or program to assist with securing a letter. For personal travel, please contact the travel provider to discuss options they are offering in response to the crisis.

 Last updated: Monday, March 23, 2020 at 5:06 EST.

All Columbia affiliates are strongly urged to postpone any non-essential travel.  Details of travel restrictions can be found on the University COVID-19 website. The University will also follow all federal requirements regarding community members traveling back to the United States.

International Travel

Columbia University recommends that all affiliates who had direct close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19 or have returned from travel to a CDC Level 3 country in the past 14 days, self-isolate for 14 additional days per the self-isolation guidance below. For travelers returning from a CDC Level 2 country, we ask that you monitor your health and limit interactions with others for 14 days after returning from travel.

Persons who still must travel overseas should make every effort to stay up to date regarding often fast-changing governmental regulations, including Executive Orders and guidance issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Department of State, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

If you are currently outside the United States with plans to travel to campus, please follow the guidance and requirement of federal authorities.  The US Government has put in place restrictions on travelers coming to the United States from or through a number of impacted regions.

Domestic Travel

There are no restrictions on domestic personal travel at this time for most Columbia affiliates.  Each person should make their own decision regarding undertaking domestic travel.

Be sure to contact your airline as there have been numerous changes to commercial air travel.

Letters to facilitate travel refunds

Columbia Health is unable to issue letters on behalf of students seeking travel refunds due to cancelled or postponed travel due to the COVID-19 outbreak, unless the cancellation was due to you being diagnosed by Columbia Health with COVID-19.

If this is University-related travel, please contact your school or program to assist with securing a letter. For personal travel, please contact the travel provider to discuss options they are offering in response to the crisis.

 Last updated: Monday, March 23, 2020 at 5:06 EST.

Other Concerns

While the situation is still evolving, the currently available data shows that most of the deaths have been in more vulnerable groups, including the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions.  Similar to the flu, these populations are at increased risk for more severe illness.

While this virus seems to have emerged from an animal source, it is now spreading from person-to-person. The CDC recommends that people traveling to an impacted region, avoid animals both live and dead, but there is no reason to believe that any animals or pets in the United States might be a source of infection with COVID-19.

If you are enrolled in The Columbia Plan, your primary care provider is your Columbia Health Medical Services clinician and your initial mental health provider is at Counseling and Psychological Services.

Hospital emergency rooms and urgent care facilities do not require a referral, regardless of your location within the US. Students who are more than 50 miles away from campus do not need referrals for other services. For students remaining within 50 miles of campus, referrals for off-campus care for most other services are mandatory from your Medical Services or Counseling and Psychological Services provider. Medical Services and Counseling and Psychological Services  providers are available to issue and renew referrals through phone and other virtual visits to expedite access for plan members.

There are some limited situations when a referral may not be required.  Please review these specifics before accessing care as Columbia Health does not issue retroactive referrals and accessing care without a required referral may result in increased out of pocket costs for which you are responsible.

Existing referrals

Referrals are issued by condition so if you are transitioning care to a new provider for the same condition you most likely do not need a new referral. If you are unsure, contact the Insurance Office for guidance at studentinsurance@colubmia.edu.  Referrals for medical care are valid through August 14, 2020.  Existing referrals for mental health are valid for the duration of your enrollment in the Columbia Plan. 

Requesting new referrals

To request a new referral please send a secure message via the patient portal to your primary care provider at Columbia Health.  Providers at Medical Services and Counseling and Psychological Services are available to issue and renew referrals through phone and other virtual visits to expedite access for plan members. You can also request a referral via phone at 212-854-7426 (medical) or 212-854-2878 (mental health).

Columbia continues to monitor and provide updates online. You can check this website or the University's COVID-19 website for updates. Major notifications and announcements may also be shared via email. Be sure to check your Columbia email on a regular basis.