An unidentified resident of the International House—a nonaffiliated residential community—has died after contracting COVID-19.
This follows the announcement that a staff member in the house—a residential community that houses over 700 Columbia graduate students from approximately 100 countries—had contracted COVID-19. In response, administrators evacuated 300 to 500 students from the South building, a space intended for communal living and social contact between its residents.
At the time the case was confirmed, the house—which operates independently of the University—was deemed an “at risk” area, and administrators said that many residents likely came into contact with the staff member.
“I-House South was designed to foster cross-cultural exchange and learning through its numerous communal spaces, such as study rooms, lounges, and gymnasium. The majority of I-House South bathrooms are shared spaces, which increase the likelihood of exposure to the virus,” the statement said.
The evacuation of residence halls and closure of universities could be effective in combating influenza, but less so in the case of COVID-19, according to epidemiologist Jeffrey Klausner. For students who have or are expected to have come in contact with COVID-19, their evacuation would present an increased risk in the spreading of the virus.
“The school closings make no epidemiological sense; this is not influenza,” Klausner said. “Students with infections can be isolated; they can be monitored.”
After Columbia confirmed its first case of COVID-19 in an affiliate last Sunday, administrators similarly asked all students, with the exception of those experiencing travel restrictions and safety concerns, to evacuate their dorms within 48 hours, declaring that access to residence halls would be restricted starting on March 17.
Prior to this announcement, the University had recommended that students who were able to go home do so by March 30, while allowing others to stay without immediate restrictions. When other institutions, including Harvard University and Amherst College, asked all students to evacuate their campuses without exception, Columbia announced the implementation of remote instruction for the remainder of the semester and the recommendation that students who could go home do so.