After an unauthorized trip to Turks and Caicos, 70 students from the Business School have been barred from entering any campus facilities until Dec. 1.
The trip was in direct violation of Columbia’s COVID-19 public health protocols and the Columbia Community Health Compact, which all Columbia students, faculty, and staff accessing campus were required to sign at the beginning of the 2020-21 academic year. The compact and protocol suspended most domestic and international Columbia-related travel and forbade group gatherings.
News of the violation comes amid a nationwide resurgence in COVID-19 cases. New York City, which has seen significantly lower positivity rates than other regions since the spring, has joined the rest of the country in a second wave that threatens to be more widespread than the first. Nationally, there have been 2.9 million new infections since the beginning of November, while New York City has seen close to 28,000 cases.
If the policy is violated again, the students could be subjected to harsher discipline.
“An important part of Columbia’s public health protocols is that there are consequences for community members who violate the University’s Health Compact,” a University spokesperson said.
Community members have previously expressed concerns about the return of Columbia students because of the risk they pose in spreading the virus to the local community. In an August op-ed, Dave Robinson and Harry Schwartz, members of the Morningside Heights Community Coalition, expressed skepticism that students returning to campus would practice social distancing while living in Morningside Heights and Hamilton Heights, where most residents are Black or Hispanic and are at higher risk of contracting the virus.
In response to these concerns and the ongoing pandemic, Columbia limited residential housing this semester to students with extenuating circumstances and moved all undergraduate classes online for the duration of the semester. Still, 14,000 students returned to New York City, most of whom occupied off campus housing. Graduate schools created their own reopening plans and limited graduate research was permitted to resume in September.
For the fall 2020 semester, the Business School is offering hybrid instruction with a combination of “HyFlex” and online classes. In the HyFlex model, students have been offered a combination of in-person and remote instruction, alternating daily between the two modes of learning. During remote instruction, Business School students can still access facilities in Warren Hall and Uris Hall. Until Dec. 1, the 70 students who traveled to Turks and Caicos will have to attend classes virtually.
The positivity rate among Columbia affiliates—living both on and off campus—has been at around 0.11 percent for most of the semester, but reached 0.34 percent this month, according to an email from Interim Provost Ira Katznelson. In the first two weeks of November, 11 students and 19 faculty and staff tested positive. As of Nov. 15, 24 students are in isolation and 39 are quarantining on campus.
In response to the surge in COVID-19 cases, New York City has begun to return to lockdown measures like those placed in the spring when the city was the global epicenter of the pandemic. This past Thursday, Nov. 19, all New York City public schools were closed and moved to remote learning. Additionally, after identifying gyms, establishments that serve alcohol, and indoor gatherings at private homes as the main sources of a rise in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a curfew of 10 p.m. for bars, gyms, and restaurants.
Despite the recent increase in cases, the University recently announced plans to invite all seniors and some juniors back into undergraduate housing for the spring semester. Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science plan to invite back all seniors and some juniors, while Barnard has been able to offer housing to all seniors and juniors and some underclassmen. All School of General Studies students can apply for University apartment housing.
As Thanksgiving and winter break approach, students conducting authorized travel are responsible for abiding by the Community Health Compact. Any violation can result in a loss of campus access, registration holds on student accounts, and removal from Columbia Housing.