The first member of the Columbia community has tested positive for COVID-19, University President Lee Bollinger announced in an email Sunday morning. In light of the growing number of confirmed cases in New York City and the looming threat of domestic travel restrictions, Columbia is now asking for a significant reduction of students in residence halls.
Columbia declined to provide more information regarding the location or campus of the infected individual, citing privacy concerns.
Currently, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New York City has climbed to over 250 in the past few weeks, with the number of cases statewide exceeding 600. On Saturday, the state reported its first deaths linked to the virus.
Prior to this announcement, Columbia and Barnard sent notices to students asking that all students able to leave their rooming accommodations do so by March 30. Facilities such as Dodge Fitness Center originally announced that it would operate under a revised, limited schedule; however, as part of its preventative efforts, the University will also be closing it, along with other non-academic spaces that invite large groups of people, including St. Paul’s Chapel, effective immediately.
The University has now emphasized the need for all students who are capable, including those at the Medical campus, to immediately evacuate their dormitories by Tuesday, March 17th.
The email also encourages deans of schools and department chairs, to only conduct essential research in person. At the Medical Center, Bollinger urged for the suspension of student clerkships and rotations and the aggregation of medical resources to support a predicted influx of coronavirus cases.
Meanwhile, pressure to place further restrictions on public life in the city has mounted, as New York City Council members call on Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to close restaurants and bars. Currently, events with more than 500 people are prohibited, though restaurants and bars may remain open at less than 50 percent capacity.
“Something has snapped in the last 12 hours,” Mark Levine, a New York City Council member representing Morningside Heights, tweeted. “Today must be the day we move to #ShutDownNYC.”
However, officials have cited the need to keep mass transit running to ensure that the health care system can continue to operate.
Cuomo has also called on President Donald Trump to allow the Army Corps of Engineers to “leverage its expertise, equipment, and people power to retrofit and equip” facilities such as military bases or college dormitories to serve as temporary medical centers. In an op-ed in the New York Times, Cuomo wrote that New York State’s hospital systems would not be able to handle the rush of patients if the worst projections come true.