Dear TC Community:
Since I last communicated with you, we have had news indicating continued spread across the globe, and continued efforts to mitigate that spread. In an email from President Bollinger (below), he shares that a member of the Columbia community has now tested positive for COVID-19. He also notes that the federal government is considering imposing travel restrictions across the country, as we are already seeing in some localities. Given this, I am writing to you now to ask for your help in doing all that we can to follow the guidance – from me, from our local officials, and from public health experts – that will help us do everything we can to slow the rate at which individuals are exposed to this virus.
We are asking that anyone who can safely leave campus do so. We are doing this in order to allow us to maintain as safe an environment as possible for those who truly cannot go elsewhere. As you know, the CDC has indicated that social distancing (which they define as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible”) is critical to mitigating the spread of the virus. Maintaining this sort of distance is a challenge in residence halls when they are at capacity. Thus, if you must remain in the residence halls to finish your studies virtually, you may do so. As such, if you can leave, we strongly encourage you to do so as soon as you are able. We will be in touch with all residents today to support this effort.
At this time, we are also closing spaces where groups come together for the time being. This includes the library, computer labs, and the fitness rooms in the residence halls.
We recognize the sacrifice and challenge that comes with these changes. We are here to help in every way that we can.
This continues to be an unprecedented situation, and we are committed to doing all we can to support everyone in our community and to continue our efforts to teach – albeit in a new modality, and new locations, for many of us. Please do everything you can to take care of yourself and one another and continue to check our preparedness site for updates.
President Thomas Bailey
Message from Lee Bollinger:
Dear member of the Columbia community:
Over the past week, I have sent messages setting forth our efforts to grapple with the health risks of COVID-19 while doing our best to keep the University functioning. Each one has asked for increasing levels of change in our operations in response to rising risks. Today is yet another. Two significant events have happened in the last 24 hours. The first involves the increased number of people in the surrounding region infected with the virus and, most immediately, the discovery that one of the members of our community has been infected. The second change is the announcement that the federal government is entertaining the prospect of imposing restrictions on domestic travel. Both of these now require us to take the following steps, and I ask everyone to help with implementing them.
We must significantly reduce the number of students in our residence halls. Any student who can leave must leave, by Tuesday, March 17. Some students will not be able to leave, and for us to care for them, in every sense, we need the space to do so. It is, therefore, a responsibility of those who can go home to do so. We recognize this is for almost everyone a major sacrifice, and we are prepared to, and are preparing ourselves to, help in every way we can.
We must take steps to reduce our research activities to those that are “essential” — at this point a necessarily vague standard, but one that at least points us in a direction we must go and that can be implemented with careful thought and particularity by our respective Deans and Chairs.
At the Medical Center, we must continue to reduce the number of students in our dormitory, identify what research can be done remotely, and take other steps to suspend student clerkships and rotations. Here, especially, our efforts must be to aggregate our medical capacity to serve the patient needs likely to arise from the spread of the virus.
Lastly, we need to close various non-academic areas that bring people together in large groups, such as the gymnasium and our Chapel.
All of these actions will lead us to become an even more virtual community for the time being. As such, Columbia will remain our point of connection in teaching, research, and action, as well as emotionally. This is a time for everyone to help each other out as much as possible. As always, this communication will be followed by others with more details. I am sorry to convey these messages and actions.
Lee C. Bollinger