Update on COVID-19 and Further Changes in Operations
Dear fellow members 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