How to Isolate or Quarantine

Update: January 13, 2022

While this can be an overwhelming time, Student Health on Haven is available to you as a resource for support while you isolate, rest, and recover. 

As of January 5, Columbia University is following New York State Department of Health interim guidelines for shortened isolation

Isolation

Quarantine

People who have a confirmed positive diagnostic test for COVID-19 must isolate for at least 5 days before returning to work or class. Day 0 is considered the first day of symptom onset or the day of your first positive PCR or antigen test. 

There are no exceptions or exemptions for isolation. Everyone who tests positive by either antigen or PCR testing—regardless of symptoms, previous infection, or vaccination/booster status—must isolate for at least 5 days. 

After you have completed isolation and have recovered from COVID-19, you do not need a negative test to return to work or class. 

Your isolation period may extend depending on the following: 

  • If you are asymptomatic and continue to remain asymptomatic after 5 days of isolation: You can end isolation on day 6. Continue to mask around other people both indoors and outdoors for an additional 5 days. 
  • If your symptoms are significantly improving AND you are fever-free without the use of any fever-reducing medication for at least 24 hours after 5 days of isolation: You can end isolation on day 6. Continue to mask around other people both indoors and outdoors for an additional 5 days. 
  • If you are unable to wear a well-fitting mask around others for 5 days after a 5-day isolation, you must isolate for at least 10 days
  • If you are moderately to severely immunocompromised, you must isolate for at least 10 days.  
  • If you are severely ill with COVID-19 you should isolate for at least 10 days. Schedule a telehealth appointment with Medical Services to assess your symptoms before ending isolation. 

People who have been in close contact of someone who was infectious with COVID-19 may need to quarantine depending on their vaccination/booster status. Day 0 is considered the day of your latest exposure. 

  • If you are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or are booster-eligible but have not yet received your booster: You must quarantine for at least 5 days before returning to work or class, even if you have no symptoms. 
  • If you have recently recovered from COVID-19 in the last 90 days (confirmed via testing): You do not need to quarantine and may go to work or class while monitoring your symptoms for 10 days. If you tested off-site, email your positive results to covidtesttrace@columbia.edu
  • If you are fully vaccinated AND boosted* AND have no symptoms: You do not need to quarantine and and may go to work or class while monitoring your symptoms for 10 days. 

*Fully vaccinated and boosted is defined as being 2 weeks or more after either receipt of the second dose in a 2-dose series, or 2 weeks or more after receipt of one dose of a single-dose vaccine, and having received a booster shot at least 2 weeks before the first date of exposure.

For all close contacts, PCR testing is recommended on days 5-7 after an exposure. If you test positive, immediately isolate and email your results to covidtesttrace@columbia.edu For unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or booster-eligible individuals who have not received a booster, a negative test will not shorten the length of quarantine.  

Through day 10, all close contacts, regardless of vaccination/booster status must: 

  • Wear a well-fitting mask any time you are around others indoors or outdoors. Do not go to places where you are unable to wear a mask. 
  • Avoid traveling or being around people who are at high risk for developing a severe COVID-19 infection. 
  • Continue daily symptom monitoring and follow the latest public health recommendations, including handwashing. 
  • Self-isolate immediately if any symptoms develop. 

You must isolate if: 

  • You've been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • You are awaiting test results to determine if you are positive for COVID-19.  

You must quarantine if: 

  • You are a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19 AND you are unvaccinated, incompletely vaccinated, OR are booster eligible and have not received your booster.  
  • You've have been asked to quarantine based on state, local, or Columbia University guidance. 

What to Do if You've Been Asked to Isolate

Regardless of your vaccination/booster status, you should isolate yourself immediately and continue isolation from the date of your positive test unless you receive different guidance from your local public health authority or medical provider.  Please use the isolation criteria listed above to determine the length of your isolation. 

All CUIMC students must complete isolation as required before returning to work or class on campus. You cannot reduce the length of your isolation period, even if you later test negative for COVID-19.

Remain in Your Home or Room 

Do not go out, except for emergencies or when recommended by a medical professional. If you must leave your home, try to do so during off-hours and avoid places where people are congregating. Additionally: 

  • Maintain distance (~ 6 feet or 2 meters) from others. If you must pass through a common space in your home, wear a mask and try to avoid common spaces if others are present.
  • Arrange for groceries, items from a food pantry, or take-out food to be delivered to you.
  • Consider laundry and dry-cleaning services that have contact-less drop-off. 
  • If possible, seek out someone who can assist you with getting packages or other deliveries from the lobby.
  • Partners and spouses should not have shared sleeping arrangements during isolation or quarantine.
  • If sharing a bathroom, the person who is isolating should clean and disinfect the frequently touched surfaces in the bathroom after each use.
  • Do not use public transit. 
  • If you have a pet, be sure to have supplies and care for them too. Arrange for friends or professional services to walk your dog for you.

If you MUST go outside:

  • Wear a face covering at all times.
  • Maintain distance (~ 6 feet or 2 meters) from others.

Isolating in On-Campus Housing

If you are living in an on-campus apartment, you should stay in your private bedroom as much as possible. Wear a mask when entering shared spaces and wipe down high-touch areas with disinfecting wipes frequently. 

Contact housingservices@cumc.columbia.edu if: 

  • You are a resident of 50 Haven. 
  • You have concerns about your ability to safely isolate.  

Get Supplies

 You will want to have the following personal items:

  • Enough clean clothes and bedding for at least 10 days
  • Your cell phone, laptop, and any chargers
  • Self-care kit
  • Any toiletries you use
  • Eyewear (glasses, contacts)
  • Any prescription and non-prescription medications
  • Food and supplies for your pets

Create a Self-Care Kit

Create a self-care kit for your isolation or quarantine that contains:

  • Digital thermometer (for daily use)
  • Hand sanitizer (for times you can’t wash)
  • Disinfecting wipes (for cleaning, as needed)
  • Refillable water bottle (stay hydrated!)
  • Daily Temperature and Symptom Log

Monitor Your Symptoms

Keep track of any symptoms and watch for these symptoms in particular:

  • Fever (above 100.4°F)
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Monitoring Your Symptoms

  • Please take your temperature twice daily and record your symptoms on the Daily Temperature and Symptom Log.
  • If your symptoms are mild and you have no underlying health conditions that put you at higher risk for more severe illness, please continue to isolate, monitor your symptoms, and reach out to Medical Services at 212-305-3400 (option 1 during buisness hours and option 8 after hours) or your medical provider if you need assistance. 
  • If any of the following applies to you, please schedule a telehealth appointment with Medical Services via the Student Health Portal as soon as possible: 
    • You are not fully vaccinated. To be considered fully vaccinated, at least two weeks must have passed since your final dose of an FDA or WHO authorized COVID-19 vaccine.
    • You have an underlying health condition that puts you at higher risk for more severe illness.
    • You have severe or concerning symptoms.

If you are experiencing serious or critical symptoms (e.g., chest pain, shortness of breath, etc.), call 911 immediately.  

If you have questions or an urgent concern and Student Health on Haven is closed, please call our after-hours service by dialing 212-305-3400, option 8 for medical concerns, and option 7 for mental health concerns. 

Close Contacts

You can infect others with COVID-19 starting two days before any symptoms develop, or two days before your positive test, whichever is earlier. If you have been in close contact with anyone during your infectious period, you should notify these close contacts immediately, so they are aware and can take appropriate action. 

Definition of Close Contact

close contact is defined as someone who has been within 6 feet for at least 10 consecutive minutes OR within 6 feet for at least 15 cumulative minutes over a 24-hour period of someone with a confirmed positive COVID-19 test during that person’s infectious period.  

Notifying Close Contacts

If you have been in close contact with anyone during your infectious period, you should notify these close contacts immediately, so that they are aware and can take appropriate next steps.  

  • If the close contact is unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or are booster-eligible but have not yet received their booster:
    • They must quarantine for at least 5 days before returning to work or class regardless of symptoms.
    • PCR testing is recommended on days 5-7. If a Columbia affiliate tests positive, they should immediately isolate and email results to covidtesttrace@columbia.edu.  A negative test will not shorten the length of quarantine.  
  • If the close contact is fully vaccinated AND boosted AND has no symptoms:
    • They do not need to quarantine.
    • They should get a COVID-19 PCR test between days 5-7 after they were last exposed. Asymptomatic close contacts who are Columbia affiliates can schedule testing with any off-campus facility that offers PCR testing, or at one of the University’s testing locations. 
    • Continue to mask indoors and in crowded spaces outdoors and monitor symptoms over the next 10 days. 
  • If the close contact has recently recovered from COVID-19 in the last 90 days (confirmed via testing):
    • They do not need to quarantine.
    • They should email their positive results to covidtestrace@columbia.edu, if they are a Columbia affiliate who tested off-site.
    • Continue to mask indoors and in crowded spaces outdoors and monitor symptoms over the next 10 days. 
  • If the close contact is symptomatic, regardless of vaccination/booster status
    • They should schedule a COVID-19 PCR test as soon as possible and isolate while waiting for their results. 
    • Symptomatic contacts who are CUIMC students can schedule testing with any off-campus facility that offers PCR testing, or with Student Health on Haven through the Student Health Portal (CUIMC students only)Symptomatic individuals may NOT schedule testing at the Lerner Hall or Black Building sites.  
      • If their test is positive, they should isolate for at least 5 days and Columbia affiliates should email their results to covidtesttrace@columbia.edu for next steps.  
      • If their test is negative, they may return to work and class when their symptoms subside and should mask indoors and in crowded spaces outdoors and continue to monitor symptoms over the next 10 days. 

For additional information and resources, we encourage you to reach out to covidtesttrace@columbia.edu

Available Support and Resources

In addition to the information and resources outlined above, you are also encouraged to learn about the various university and New York City resources that may be helpful to you during what can be an overwhelming time.   

Academic Support from Your School or Program

Please reach out to your school or program leadership to help you plan for how to navigate your academic and research obligations during isolation.

After you have completed 10 days of isolation, you are not required to have proof of a negative test prior to returning to campus activities and/or living on campus, and in most cases, you are not recommended to retest for up to 90 days.  

Clinical Education

Clinical students concerned about exposures in clinical spaces should reach out to their program supervisors or preceptors for additional guidance in discerning close contacts that should be notified. 

Columbia Health COVID-19 Test and Trace

For questions regarding guidance on testing, contact tracing, isolation, COVID-19-related incidents, including potential exposures or concerns that you may be a close contact, please e-mail covidtesttrace@columbia.edu. Depending on the incident, the Contact Tracing Team will conduct an assessment to determine the appropriate response. 

Common Reactions to Being in Isolation

Although each person reacts differently to stressful situations that require changes in location or behavior, especially in isolation or quarantine, some common reactions include:

  • Anxiety, worry, or fear related to your health status or that of others
  • Anger or resentment at the inconvenience
  • Worry about not having your things with you or not doing your usual routine
  • Uncertainty or concern about how long you will need to remain in this situation
  • Relief at having some alone time to rest and catch up on reading
  • Loneliness or feeling cut off from life experiences
  • Boredom and frustration
  • Sadness or depression
  • Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder

For support during this challenging time, please reach out to CUIMC Counseling Services at 212-305-3400 (option 7), available 24/7. We offer our full range of services, including individual and group sessions, virtually to all CUIMC students in isolation. 24/7/365 counseling support via chat and phone is also available through CUIMC My SSP.  

Medical Services (Student Health on Haven)

If any of the following applies to you, please contact Medical Services to schedule a telehealth appointment via the Student Health Portal as soon as possible: 

  • You are not fully vaccinated. To be considered fully vaccinated, at least two weeks must have passed since your final dose of an FDA or WHO authorized COVID-19 vaccine.
  • You have an underlying health condition that puts you at higher risk for more severe illness.
  • You have severe or concerning symptoms.

If you are experiencing serious or critical symptoms (e.g., chest pain, shortness of breath, etc.), call 911 immediately.  

If you have questions or an urgent concern and Student Health on Haven is closed, please call our after-hours service by dialing 212-305-3400, option 8 for medical concerns, and option 7 for mental health concerns. 

Additional Resources