COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Information for Faculty and Staff

Wash your hands to stop the spread of Coronavirus

Last Update: 5/11/2020, 2:54 p.m.

Providing a safe and healthy workplace is always a top priority for Columbia University, and is especially critical during this time. The University is closely monitoring the changing COVID-19 (Coronavirus) situation in New York City and globally. University leadership, with guidance from medical and public health experts, have been meeting daily to provide guidance and develop adaptive policies to support the well-being of the Columbia community. In this unusual time, our community values of respect and consideration for each other are especially important.

Information may be modified as circumstances change. 

Shout out to essential workers & share your work place

Key Resources

While there is still much that is unknown about this virus, the prevention steps we use during each cold and flu season are helpful now.

Check the Columbia's COVID-19 Guidance website for current updates, health advisories, and how to prepare and stay safe. Please also monitor your Columbia University email for news and updates.

Learn about the types of Leaves of Absence if you cannot work — and the required approval processes. 

Take a Leave of Absence

HR Managers: Go the Toolkit for help with managing leaves of absence.

Frequently Asked Questions


  • Do you have any tips for staying healthy at this time?  
    As a reminder, several preventive actions can help to prevent spread of all respiratory viruses. These actions include:
    • Wash your hands with soap or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
    • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Maintain six feet of distance between yourself and others when in public.
    • Stay home when you are sick.
    • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow, rather than into your hands.
    • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

      Find more prevention resources at COVID-19 Health Guidance.
      (last updated: 3/31/2020)
  • What is social distancing?
    To prevent or reduce the spread of infection, all faculty and staff should implement social-distancing practices meant to reduce close contact within the workplace. Please review the COVID-19 Guidance on Social Distancing.
    (last updated: 3/16/2020)

  • I believe that I am in a high-risk group for COVID-19. What should I do?
    If you believe that you are in a high-risk group, please reach out to your supervisor to determine if an accommodation can be made to either work remotely or work an alternate work schedule. Wherever possible, your supervisor will approve the work-from-home request. Documentation of the underlying medical condition that prompted the request may be required to process with Leave Management.
    (last updated: 3/16/2020)

Campus Operations

  • Is the campus closed?
    No. The University campus remains open at this time. However, as of Monday, March 16, only designated personnel required to perform essential functions should report to work on-site. All other employees are asked to report to work virtually according to procedures announced and coordinated by your departments and schools.
    (last updated: 3/12/2020)
  • Can I work on campus if I want to?
    No. All non-essential personnel are required to work remotely. Please work with your supervisor or local HR department on the specifics. If you must be on campus, please note that due to reduced staffing, there will be some office closures and reduced services.
    (last updated: 4/1/2020)


  • Can I get tested for COVID-19 if I was exposed but have no symptoms?  

    Given the widespread availability of coronavirus tests (with varying degrees of quality), Columbia Health developed a brief that explains the kinds of tests, eligibility, etc., with specific attention to the situation in NYC: COVID-19 Testing What You Need to Know
    (last updated: 5/12/2020)

  • Should I go to work if I have no symptoms and have not traveled?
    If you do not feel ill, you should come to work (essential personnel only) or work remotely as designated by your manager. No additional follow up is needed. As always, if you develop symptoms and become ill, stay home and contact your primary care provider.
    (last updated: 4/1/2020)
  • Should I go to work if I have no symptoms but recently traveled to a country that is NOT on the CDC Restricted Travel list?  
    If you do not feel ill, you should come to work or work remotely as designated by your manager. No additional follow up is needed. As always, if you develop symptoms and become ill, stay home and contact your PCP (Primary Care Physician).
    (last updated: 3/31/2020)
  • ​​​​​What should I do if I am sick? 
    • If you are sick with a fever or respiratory symptoms, do not report to work (either in person or remote). Your time off should be treated as a standard sick time absence, and you and your manager should work with Leave Management. Questions about how to code your absence should be directed to your local Human Resources department.
    • Call your healthcare provider if you experience fever, cough and have difficulty breathing, or have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, or if you live in or have recently traveled to an area with ongoing spread.
    • Tell your healthcare provider about your recent travel or contact. Your healthcare provider will work with public health officials to determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19.
      (last updated: 4/1/2020)
  • What do I do if I tested positive for COVID-19 or I have symptoms or I am waiting for test results?
    Do not report to work if you tested positive for the Coronavirus or you are experiencing symptoms or are waiting for test results.  Your time off should be treated as a standard sick time absence, and you and your manager should work with Leave Management. Employees should submit requests for an emergency absence to their managers. Information regarding your self-isolation is sensitive and should only be shared on a need-to-know basis.
    (last updated: 3/25/2020)
  • What do I do to return to work after recovering from COVID-19?
    The decision to stop home isolation and return to work should be made in consultation with your healthcare provider and state and local health departments. Additionally, Leave Management will confirm the following criteria:
    • You had no fever for at least 72 hours (that is three full days of no fever without the use of medicine that reduces fevers) AND
    • Other symptoms have improved (for example, when your cough or shortness of breath have improved) AND
    • At least 7 days have passed since your symptoms first appeared
      (last updated: 3/27/2020)
  • Do I need to be quarantined if I was in contact with someone that may have been COVID-19 positive and I do not have any symptoms?
    No, there is widespread community transmission of COVID-19 happening in New York City. If you believe that you have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19, then you should self-monitor your health for COVID-19 like illness.  You are not required to self-isolate unless you are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms – fever, cough or difficulty breathing. 
    (last updated: 3/25/2020)
  • I have been told by my manager that I am essential personnel and must report on-site, but I do not feel well. Do I have to come in anyway?
    No. If you are not feeling well, stay home. Contact your supervisor, as you would any other time you are requesting sick time. Please also exercise the usual precautions associated with seasonal illnesses like colds and flu:

    • Stay home to rest and drink plenty of fluids
    • Contact your healthcare provider (see above) for guidance
    • Limit contact with other household members
    • Do not share items like drinking glasses, towels, eating utensils
    • Wipe down high touch surfaces (e.g. doorknobs, telephones, remote controls, and bathroom surfaces) often with a standard household disinfectant such as Clorox® wipes
      (last updated: 3/25/2020)


  • I have a medical or mental health concern; how can I speak with a professional while at home?
    • If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 (coronavirus), contact your primary care provider immediately.
    • Virtual Visits are ideal for asking questions of a medical professional while at home or if you don't have a primary care doctor. 
    • NYP OnDemand is a virtual urgent care service available to all University employees, regardless of insurance coverage, to connect with an emergency medicine physician from Columbia or Weill Cornell Medicine.
      (last updated: 3/31/2020)
  • Will UnitedHealthcare cover the cost of COVID-19 care?
    • UHC will cover antibody detection tests (Serology - IGG/IGM/IGA for SARS-nCOV2 (COVID19). For the duration of the national public health emergency period, UnitedHealthcare will cover COVID-19 antibody tests ordered by a physician or health care provider to diagnose COVID-19 at no cost share to the member, In and Out of Network.  
      (last updated: 5/1/2020)
    • Your health benefits plan administered by UnitedHealthcare will cover the initial provider office visit and subsequent lab testing specifically related to COVID-19 testing at no cost to you. See UnitedHealthcare's COVID-19 FAQs for additional answers related to cost, coverage and support for faculty and staff affected by coronavirus.
      (last updated: 3/13/2020)
  • Is OptumRx proactively waiving any refill-too-soon edits?
    Yes. OptumRx's first priority is to ensure their members have access to the diagnostic and treatment care they need, and they are continuing to work with their customers and policymakers on this public health challenge.

    To ensure they meet the clinical needs of their members and to comply with applicable CDC, Federal, State and Local government requirements, OptumRx Clinical Affairs has implemented an early refill policy for maintenance medications. This authorization allows eligible OptumRx members to obtain early refills of their prescription medications if they have refills remaining on file at a participating retail or mail-order pharmacy.

    See OptumRx COVID-19 FAQs for additional answers related to the coronavirus and your prescription drug coverage.
    (last updated: 3/19/2020)

  • Are COVID-19-related medical items Healthcare FSA eligible?
    The CARES Act (COVID Stimulus Bill) that was recently passed by Congress permanently reinstates coverage of over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and medicines as eligible for reimbursement from FSAs and HSAs without need for a prescription. This change is effective for expenses incurred on or after January 1, 2020. For a list of eligible expenses, go to UHC’s website or IRS Publication 502.
    (last updated: 04/21/2020)

  • What happens if the spending card does not work on the OTC purchases?
    A member may use the accounts to purchase the products. However, when a person attempts to use the payment Mastercard it may not work at the moment. This is because individual pharmacies and convenience stores must update their systems to recognize these products as qualified medical expenses for FSA purchases.

    You should first try to use the card as you normally would to make the purchase. If the same does not process, you may pay out of pocket and then reimburse yourself with their account funds. Keep the itemized receipts, which are needed to verify the purchases.

    Reminder for HSAs, the debit card may be used as it normally is since no claim reimbursement process is required. As always the receipts should be kept for tax purposes.
    (last updated: 04/21/2020)

  • Can I increase, reduce or suspend contributions to my Healthcare FSA?
    Per IRS regulations, FSAs are valid for the January 1 to December 31 plan year. Once enrolled, you cannot change your contributions to the plan mid-year without a qualifying life status event such as marriage or the birth of a child. Working remotely due to COVID-19 is not a qualifying event.
    (last updated: 3/19/2020)

  • Can I increase, reduce or suspend contributions to my Dependent Care FSA?
    If your child care needs have changed due to COVID-19 closures, including working remotely, you can reduce or suspend your Dependent Care FSA or add a new election through CUBES. If your child care needs have changed, it would be considered a Qualified Life Status Change of Change in Dependent Care Cost. Examples: Your child’s after-school program is canceled or you are no longer sending your child to day care, you can suspend your elections. You may choose to re-elect the dependent care FSA once daycare services resume.

    You can also increase or decrease your contribution, if you are incurring different expenses.

    You can add an election if your family needs require a new child care provider whose services have a cost. This will qualify so long as the babysitter is over the age of 19 and is not the spouse, the parent of the child, or anyone claimed as a dependent on the employee’s tax returns.
    (last updated: 4/21/2020)

  • Can I increase, reduce or suspend contributions to my Transit/Parking Reimbursement Program (T/PRP)?
    You can make changes your T/PRP account at any time. 

    • Log in to CUBES; confirm access through multi-factor authentication (DUO).

    • Click the “Benefits” tab at the top of the screen, then “Update Your Transit/Parking Elections.”

    • Changes made on or before the 20th day of a month will be effective the first day of the following month (March 20 change effective April 1). Changes made on or after the 21st day of a month will be effective the first day of the second following month (March 21 change effective May 1). 

    • Click the “Change” button for either the Transit Reimbursement Program or the Parking Reimbursement Program. Enter a monthly contribution amount and “Add to Cart.”

    • View your cart and be sure to “Checkout” to save your election.
      (last updated: 3/19/2020)

  • I am anxious about the Coronavirus, who can I speak with?
    The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a free, confidential resource available 24/7 that gives you the opportunity to speak with a licensed mental health professional, who can direct you to additional resources as needed.

    If you're feeling nervous about the coronavirus, you're not alone. Being concerned and empathetic about this outbreak is normal. However, you may experience feelings of discomfort, impacting concentration, productivity and even disrupting sleep patterns. 

    Stick to the facts as communicated by public-health agencies or medical professionals. Instead of reading every article and going to every website, avoiding the web is probably a good idea. If you're concerned, sites that include accurate information include the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

    Try to keep it in perspective. Social media can amplify misinformation. Keep in mind that there's a concerted global effort to contain this virus, and the World Health Organization has answers to common questions.

    10 Tips to Enhance Well-Being When Working Remotely
    (last updated: 3/31/2020)


  • How do I keep motivated when working remotely?

  • I am a non-union support staff member. Is working remotely an option for me?
    Yes. Only designated personnel required to perform essential functions should report to work on-site. If you have not already discussed alternate work arrangements with your supervisor, please contact them as soon as possible.
    (last updated: 3/16/2020)

  • I am a union support staff member. Is working remotely an option for me?
    Yes. Only designated personnel required to perform essential functions should report to work on-site. If you have not already discussed alternate work arrangements with your supervisor, please contact them as soon as possible.
    (last updated: 3/16/2020)

  • When I left the office on Friday, I was not planning to work remotely. Can I come in to pick up the things I need (laptop, files, etc) so that I can work remotely?
    Yes. The University facilities are open. Please ensure you bring your CUID, as some doors may be closed due to the reduced staffing levels on-site.
    (last updated: 3/16/2020)

  • I am working remotely. What are the general expectations from the University on remote-work?
    While specific expectations and guidance is provided by your department and supervisor, the following are general guidelines and procedures that should be followed:

    • When working remotely you are required to be fully active and engaged in your work for the entire working period.  You must be available by phone, email or other appropriate communication methods at all times.
    • If you become ill during the course of working remotely, please follow the same time away from work procedure in place from your School and/or Department for sick days while working on-site.
    • To the extent possible, your performance and productivity should remain consistent with on-site expectations from your supervisor.
    • As much as possible, remote work environments should be quiet and separate from outside activities and distractions.
    • You may use your own equipment or equipment supplied by your School and/or Department.  Any equipment provided on a short-term basis by the University must be returned immediately after the remote work arrangement ends.  You should make every effort to ensure laptops, telephones and any other devices are in satisfactory working order, and work with your local IT resource to address any malfunctions.
    • Review and familiarize yourself with the University’s guidance on computer security.
    • You are responsible for maintaining the security of confidential and restricted files, data and other information.
    • Managers should schedule regular check-ins with you or your team to ensure necessary work is being completed.  In some situations, daily check-ins may be required.
      (last updated: 3/13/2020)
  • I am a manager, do I have to allow my employees to work remotely?
    While the university remains open, managers should implement telework plans for non-essential employees, so that the university can maintain operations while taking every precaution to reduce the spread of infection. 

    • Non-essential employees should work from home when possible.
    • Eligible employees are those whose university duties can be completely or substantially performed at a distance or from home, as determined by their manager.
    • For detailed information on conducting transactions and managing staff at a distance, visit HR Manager Remote Working.
      (last updated: 3/26/2020)

Time Off/Flex-Time

  • I am unable to report to work due to school closure, or another family situation related to COVID-19. How will I be paid?  
    Columbia offers full-time and regular part-time employees a one-time allotment of up to 10 paid work days of COVID-Absence in these situations, in addition to any other available leave benefits under our existing University policies (including up to 40 hours under the New York City Earned Safe and Sick Time Act). Employees should submit requests for COVID-Absence to their managers. 
    (last updated: 3/31/2020)

  • I would like to alter my work schedule to travel during off-peak hours. What should I do?
    At the discretion of your School/Department leadership and your supervisor, you may request a flex-time schedule. For example, staggering the start and end time of your day to assist our city officials in reducing the amount of traffic at peak times on public transportation. All time reporting policies and processes remain in place, even if working an alternate work schedule.

    All University staff who can telecommute should speak to their manager to discuss options to telecommute
    (last updated: 3/31/2020)

  • What resources are available to help me adjust to working remotely?

  • What options do I have to take a leave of absence?
    The type of leaves available depends on the reason you need to take a leave of absence. Different leave types are available depending on whether you need to take a leave for yourself or a leave to care for a sick family member. Applicable leaves may include sick time, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Short-Term Disability, Paid Family Leave (PFL), etc. For leaves and accommodation requests related to COVID-19, please reach out to your department’s HR contact.
    (last updated: 4/20/2020)

Child Care

  • What options/resources are available for child care?
  1. Bright Horizons can assist with backup care. Here are instructions for reserving care:

    • With this program, eligible employees can book in-home child or adult care through the Bright Horizons network. To access this service, visit Back-Up Care on the Office of Work/Life's website
    • For first time registration, use employer username: columbia  |  password: Benefits4You or call 877-BH-CARES (242-2737).  
    • Review  Bright Horizons Back-Up Care Policy for COVID-19 Exposure for guidelines on back-up care related to COVID-19.
    • If Bright Horizons is unable to secure care through their network, you may be given the option to use child care from within your personal network (a neighbor, friend, or babysitter) and receive a reimbursement of $100 per day but you must go through the regular Bright Horizons process. For more information, view the Family Care Support for COVID-19 flyer.
  2. Health AdvocateResources for parents supporting at-home children
  3. Columbia's Office of Work/LifeResources of parents during COVID

    (last updated: 3/25/2020)​​​

Related Resources

Questions about Columbia's response to COVID-19

Frequently Asked Questions about Columbia University's response to COVID-19.

Remote Working for HR Managers
Remote Working

Guidance for HR Managers on transactions and remote managing.

Research and Coronavirus
Research Activities

FAQs on conducting research, research operations, and sponsored projects.

Campus Events

Non-essential events of more than 25 people is strongly discouraged on all of campuses.

Travel and Coronavirus

All Columbia business travel is suspended for all affiliates.

CDC's COVID-19 Risk Assessment By Country

Food Relief Fund
Food Relief Fund

Support food relief in the neighborhoods around Columbia campuses. 

News & Events

COVID-19 Testing: What You Need to Know

(5/12/2020) There are many different coronavirus tests out there. They fall into two main groups – diagnostic tests and antibody tests. This information is intended to help you understand these tests and determine whether either may be right for you.

How to stay social and upbeat during COVID-19

(4/23/2020) Watch this webinar recording hosted by Humana for tips on social distancing, rethinking routines, ways to stay connected virtually, addressing food insecurity, and finding community resources.

Looking Ahead

(4/16/2020) Interim Provost Ira Katznelson and Executive Vice President for Finance and Information Technology Anne Sullivan reflect on what lies ahead for the University.

University Life Forum: Your Questions Answered on COVID-19

(4/12/2020) Join the virtual University Life Forum: Your Questions Answered on COVID-19 on Monday, April 13 at 12:15 PM on Zoom.

PAC System Upgrade Coming April 6, 2020

(4/1/2020) The HR, Payroll and CUIT teams have been working on upgrading the current People @ Columbia (PAC) system. The upgrade will be implemented at the beginning of April and the updated system will be available on Monday, April 6, 2020.

Update on COVID-19: Temporary Policies in Place

(3/26/2020) We have all made a great number of adjustments to our daily lives over the last several weeks. The following outlines two new temporary policies related to pay continuity and paid emergency absences. 

University Life Forum: Update on COVID-19 for the Columbia Community

(3/25/2020) Watch a discussion about COVID-19 with leading experts from Columbia University. 

Public Health Now Podcast: Flattening the curve?

(3/24/2020) Dr. Stephen Morse discusses approaches to control the spread of COVID-19 and contain the virus.

Public Health Now Podcast: Next moves, according to science

(3/24/2020) Famed "virus hunter" Dr. W. Ian Lipkin answers your questions about what a virus is, where did COVID-19 come from, and what's on the horizon for potential treatments.

Public Health Now Podcast: Health systems (dys)function

(3/24/2020) Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, a veteran of the HIV, tuberculosis and Ebola epidemics of the past decades, provides some perspective on the lessons learned from previous outbreaks and how knowledge is our greatest defense.