COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Information for Faculty and Staff

Wash your hands

Providing a safe and healthy workplace is always a top priority for Columbia University, and is especially critical during this time. The University is planning for a return to campus responsibly and 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. Last Update: 9/25/2020, 3:56 p.m.

Key Resources

View Returning to Campus information 

For the safety of our community and in accordance with the Enhanced University Health and Safety Policy, everyone must complete the following protocol before returning to campus:

Visitors and vendors must complete a health screening form before reporting or entering any University building or location. 

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.


Share stories and images of your work life and thank Columbia's essential workers.

Use the Columbia ReopenCU App

Before returning to campus buildings, you must complete the daily COVID-19 Symptoms Attestation.

Watch a tutorial:

Related Resources

COVID-19 Guidance
COVID-19 Guidance

Columbia University's central resource for COVID-19 information.

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.

Risk Assessment By Country

Food Relief Fund
Food Relief Fund

Support food relief in the neighborhoods around Columbia campuses. 

Frequently Asked Questions


  • Do you have any tips for staying healthy at this time?  
    Several preventive actions can help to prevent spread of all respiratory viruses. See the COVID-19 Health Guidance.
    (last updated: 8/5/2020)
  • 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. Review the updated COVID-19 Guidance on Social Distancing.
    (last updated: 8/5/2020)

  • 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


  • 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)


  • Is Columbia University modifying health and welfare plan provisions or deadlines as a result of COVID-19?
    Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, agency-issued guidance impacting Plan participants is constantly evolving. If you have concerns under the Plan with respect to your coverage or meeting an applicable deadline due to the national emergency concerning the COVID-19 outbreak, please contact the Plan Administrator at (212) 851-7012 to determine if relief may be available to you.  

    Active employees may also reference the Columbia University Group Benefit Plan COVID-19 Pandemic Summary of Material Modification (SMM). The SMM describes important changes being made to the Columbia University Group Benefit Plan, as amended and restated effective January 1, 2020.
    (last updated: 8/3/2020)
  • 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). From April 10, 2020 through October 22, 2020, 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: 8/3/2020)
    • 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 from February 4, 2020 through October 22, 2020. See UnitedHealthcare's COVID-19 FAQs for additional answers related to cost, coverage and support for faculty and staff affected by coronavirus.
      (last updated: 8/3/2020)
  • 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 through September 30, 2020.

    See OptumRx COVID-19 FAQs for additional answers related to the coronavirus and your prescription drug coverage.
    (last updated: 8/3/2020)

  • 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 Dependent Care FSA?
    Due to COVID-19, the IRS is providing the opportunity to make changes to Healthcare and/or Dependent Care Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs)—or sign up for new FSAs—outside of the annual benefits Open Enrollment period. This one-time opportunity will occur from July 27, 2020, through Friday, August 7, 2020 to enroll in or change Healthcare and/or Dependent Care FSA contributions for the 2020 calendar year. Learn more.
    (last updated: 8/3/2020)

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

    HR Managers: Go the Toolkit for help with managing leaves of absence.
    (last updated: 7/9/2020)

  • Can I take a voluntary furlough?
    Columbia University is offering certain employees the option to take a full or partial unpaid furlough.

Child Care

What options/resources are available for child care?

  1. New Childcare Benefit for Summer 2020 Required On-Campus Personnel. The new benefit provides up to $3,000 to help address the urgent problems faced by some of our employees who are required to work on campus during the summer, when conventional childcare solutions are under particular stress. This is a limited duration program that will expire at the end of August 2020. Learn more and apply.

    (last updated: 7/21/2020)

  2. Bright Horizons can assist with backup care. Here are instructions for reserving care:

  3. Health AdvocateResources for parents supporting at-home children

    (last updated: 3/25/2020)​​​
  4. Columbia's Office of Work/LifeResources for parents during COVID-19

    (last updated: 3/25/2020)​​​


  • Are there restrictions on business travel?
    Yes, all Columbia business travel is suspended for all affiliates. 
  • Do I need to quarantine if I've traveled?

    Yes, New York State has joined Connecticut and New Jersey in issuing a travel advisory for anyone returning from travel to states that have a significant degree of community-wide spread of COVID-19. Travelers from these states are required to quarantine for 14 days when they return to New York, Connecticut or New Jersey. This Executive Order applies to both residents of the impacted states who travel to New York and those who have traveled to the impacted states and are returning to home or work in New York. 

    The states that have an infection rate of 10 per 100,000 residents or are in excess of 10% positive cases over a seven day rolling average will fall into this category. Find more information and the latest list of restricted states covered by this order.
    Employees providing essential and critical services for the operation or safety of the University, as identified by college or unit leadership, should follow the Exemptions for Essential Workers guidance on New York's COVID-19 Travel Advisory page. This guidance applies to individuals who come to New York state to perform essential and critical services as well as to New York state residents who provide these services in New York, who leave and then return to New York.

    For all employees returning from non- essential, non-work related travel from a state requiring quarantine will not be able to use the University provided Emergency days from Columbia University.  Any time off required will be charged to vacation or unpaid if no vacation time is available.  Additionally, only in the event of Covid-19 illness, or other type of serious illness resulting in hospitalization, applicable sick time will be available. Otherwise the use of sick days for this period of quarantine will be prohibited.

    (last updated: 7/9/2020)

News & Events

Health Advisory: Testing, Tracing, Quarantine, and Isolation

(8/5/2020) Columbia is instituting critical public health measures, including face covering and mask wearingphysical distancinghand hygienedaily symptom checking and reporting, and enhancements to facilities such as maximizing fresh air, air filter replacement, and supplementary cleaning

Voluntary Furlough Application

(7/22/2020) In response to the economic toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken, Columbia University is offering certain employees the option to take a full or partial unpaid furlough.

Voluntary Furlough Application     |     Voluntary Furlough Policy

COVID-19 Safety Training Reporting

(7/2/2020) As the ramp-up continues, an important requirement for everyone working on campus is to complete online COVID-19 safety training, before returning to their workplace.

Target Date Set for Ramping Up Laboratory and Clinical Research 

(6/12/2020) We are pleased to announce that President Bollinger has set a target date for beginning the ramping up of laboratory and clinical research on campus: Monday, June 22.

How New York City Phase One Affects the University

(6/8/2020) Remote work arrangements for Columbia will remain in place. Unless you have been identified by your department as required to be on site, you should be working from home, and you should continue to do so.

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.