Exterior of Columbia Nursing building.

Columbia Nursing Fall 2020 Reopening Plans

Dear Columbia Nursing Students:

I hope you all have fared well in recent months, during these unprecedented times for our country and our world. As we approach the fall, we in the administration and faculty are thrilled to be reopening soon. Things won’t be exactly the same as in previous falls, but our sense of excitement about the start of a new academic year is even deeper this year. I want you all to know that the faculty has spent the summer putting plans in place to ensure that you will have a stimulating and enriching year.

As I told our 2020 graduates a couple of months ago, during the University’s virtual commencement ceremonies, there has never been a more significant time to be a nurse. Nursing has always been an essential profession, but the pandemic has truly put our profession in the forefront. Nurses’ skills as scientists, policymakers, educators, and clinicians have never been more critical to humanity’s health and well-being. We are fully committed to ensuring that by the time you graduate, you, too, will have all the expertise and compassion that Columbia-educated nurses are renowned for.

I appreciate your patience as we worked out the myriad details involved in reopening. For the School of Nursing especially, since it’s essential that there be in-person simulation and/or clinical components in nearly every one of our programs, orchestrating our reopening strategies and procedures was more complicated than for many of the other schools within the University. I want to assure you, however, that every decision has been (and will be) made with the safety of the members of our community—especially our students—uppermost in our minds.

There are of course many uncertainties still ahead. Our reopening plans are predicated on what we currently know about the coronavirus scientifically and epidemiologically. But those facts have been and will remain very fluid, so it is possible we may need to adjust the plans laid out below as the year proceeds. Be assured that we will let you know as soon as we are aware of any need to modify our procedures or schedules.

President Bollinger recently sent you all the University-wide Plans for the Coming Academic Year. Some of what he explained is not applicable to Columbia Nursing; for example, we have always operated on a three-term calendar, so the three-term adjustments he describes are not relevant to us. Now, I’m pleased to provide further specifics regarding the Columbia Nursing academic calendar, curriculum, health and safety protocols, and more—some of it explained below and some at the included links:

Academic Calendar

Columbia Nursing’s Fall semester begins on September 8. See the Columbia Nursing academic calendar for further relevant dates.

Anyone arriving on campus must follow all mandatory COVID-related protocols, in accordance with guidelines from relevant health authorities and with New York State laws. So please be sure to review Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Quarantine Restrictions on Travelers Arriving in New York State Following Out of State Travel (especially the provisions regarding travel from high-risk states, if this applies to you, including the extra requirement for a 14-day quarantine). Note that health professions students are considered essential workers, so Columbia Nursing students will follow New York’s requirements for essential workers.

Curriculum Overview

With the exception of simulation instruction, clinical rotations, and two PhD courses, all fall didactic courses will be delivered online. Our faculty have put considerable effort into following best practices for online teaching and learning in developing their courses. The formats for didactic courses will include both synchronous content delivery (live, so typically interactive) and asynchronous (recorded, so students can access the content at a time convenient for them) content delivery. 

Specific guidance regarding your program and specialty—including start dates for simulation instruction and clinical rotations—will come from your program director.

With the exception of the 2020 Psychiatric-Mental Health and Midwifery Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) cohorts, all Masters Direct Entry (MDE), Nurse Anesthesia and DNP students will have in-person simulation instruction and/or clinical rotations during the fall 2020 term.

To ensure the safety of both faculty and students, the School of Nursing Simulation Lab will follow all approved safety protocols, including staff and student screening, physical distancing, and regular cleaning and sanitizing of the environment.

Before beginning clinical rotations, students are required to complete mandated COVID-19 training. This training will cover the epidemiology, diagnosis, and management of COVID-19 and the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE), including donning and doffing protocols. The school will provide PPE as needed. Clinical placement in environments with known COVID-19 positive patients is voluntary.

All international exchange programs for faculty and students are on hold for the time being.

Student Life

  • On-campus activities: We will re-open on-campus activities in a phased and careful manner, following the University’s Public Health Protocols. The safety of members of the Columbia community is a responsibility shared by everyone on campus. On-campus activities will be reintroduced in accord with requirements for physical distancing, face coverings, and personal hygiene practices. You will want to familiarize yourself with How Campus Life Will Be Different regarding matters such as elevator use, cleaning procedures, restroom use, and so on; we will share new information as changes occur.
  • Co-curricular activities: Student co-curricular activities will be conducted following guidelines set forth by the CDC and New York State. Note that large-scale events (over 50 people) will not be feasible in the fall. But any of our usual student life events that can be conducted virtually, like the White Coat Ceremony and the Career Fair, will continue to be held. And it may be possible to hold some small-group student meetings (fewer than 10 people) if appropriate protocols regarding distancing and face coverings are followed.
  • Office of Student Affairs: Staff in the Office of Student Affairs will continue to meet with students remotely via Zoom during the fall.
  • Student lockers: The student lockers on the 2nd and 3rd floors in the School of Nursing building will be available for daily student use during simulation sessions. Students will use their own locks. Only every fifth locker will be available for use, to ensure proper physical distancing.
  • Group study: The group study rooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors will not be available for group reservation but may be reserved by one student at a time. Priority for their use will be given to students with extenuating circumstances (such as lack of wifi at home). Students are encouraged to meet remotely for group work.

Health and Safety

All students coming from NYS designated COVID-19 high risk areas will be required to quarantine for 14 days. However, clinical students will be able to get a COVID-19 test within 24 hours of arrival in lieu of the quarantine. Students will also be required to complete online safety training; to undergo periodic COVID-19 retesting; and to conduct a daily symptom self-check via the ReOpen CU app. See Symptom Self-Checking for more details.

The University’s Enhanced Health and Safety Policy requires everyone to wear a face covering at all times, unless they are in a private room with the door closed. Physical distancing of 6 feet will be enforced everywhere on campus, especially in classrooms. There will also be enhanced cleaning and disinfection of classrooms, common spaces, restrooms, and work areas. In addition, we have begun to make a number of adjustments to the School of Nursing building to safely manage the flow of foot, stair, and elevator traffic. See also the University’s Public Health Guidance and Public Health Protocols for more details.

Finally, all students, faculty, and staff at Columbia—in every undergraduate and graduate program—will be asked to sign the Columbia Community Health Compact  before returning to campus. This is a mutual commitment between the University and its community members. It reflects the fact that we are dependent on each other to remain healthy and to retain as much as current circumstances allow of the educational climate and sense of community that we all value.

ICE Provisions and International Students

I assume that all international students have received the good news that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has rolled back new restrictions announced earlier this month regarding international student visas. Columbia University, including Columbia School of Nursing, joined many other educational institutions in urging the government to rethink these new rules—which severely limited international students’ ability to take online classes.

Happily, we received word on July 14 that this outcry was heard—that the previous rules, put in place in response to the pandemic, would be restored. So international students’ visa status is once again secure. But of course, if any international students have questions or feel a need for support, you should feel free to contact International Students & Scholars Office (ISSO) for guidance, or the Office of Student Services (OSSnursing@cumc.columbia.edu).

Research Ramp-Up

The ramping back up of laboratory research activities began on June 22 in accordance with guidelines developed by the University’s Research Working Group. Any research that can be accomplished remotely will continue to be done remotely, to help reduce the density of people on campus. Prior to the start of the first stage of the ramp-up, PIs whose research could not be done remotely submitted ramp-up plans (addressing reduced density, social distancing, and accommodation of mandated public health guidelines) to be considered for approval. Once approved, any faculty, doctoral students, researchers, and staff coming back onto campus were and continue to be subject to mandatory public health guidelines.

Labs are operating at approximately one-third capacity during the first stage. This stage of the ramp-up has gone smoothly, and we anticipate entering the second stage soon. Guidance for this stage will be issued in the near future.


I continue to be inspired by our resilient, productive, and innovative intellectual community. The dedication of our faculty and staff in planning and preparing for the upcoming academic year has been remarkable.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not emphasize that we are also continuing our commitment to the anti-racism movement set in motion during the spring. As you know from my Juneteenth message to the entire Columbia Nursing community, we have already begun to take steps to help turn the tide of this country’s legacy of systemic racism. And with your involvement, we intend to keep pursuing this cause. Any students who are interested in being involved in this important work can contact son_diversity@cumc.columbia.edu.

So for many reasons, we look forward to joining together again as a community—both in person and remotely—and to offering all of you a robust and exciting experience in the coming year.

Please watch for additional information in coming weeks and months. And in the meantime, if any of you have questions not addressed above and at the links, please feel free to contact Office of Student Services (OSSnursing@cumc.columbia.edu).

Dean Frazier

Lorraine Frazier, RN, PhD, FAAN
Dean and Mary O’Neil Mundinger Professor
Senior Vice President, Columbia University Irving Medical Center