BREAKING: College suspects first ‘positive on-campus transmission’ of COVID-19

By Mari Devereaux, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Ignacio Calderon

Less than a week after an individual attending in-person Cinema and Television Arts Department classes became symptomatic and tested positive for COVID-19, a close contact also tested positive, marking the college’s first possible case of COVID-19 transmission on campus.

In a Wednesday, Oct. 21 collegewide email, Senior Vice President and Provost Marcella David and Chief of Staff Laurent Pernot—co-chair of Columbia’s Incident Assessment Task Force—said the college believes the newest case could have stemmed from exposure to the infectious individual in one of the CTVA classes.

This marks Columbia’s 12th on-campus case since August 24, with six occurring in the past week, according to the email.

Lambrini Lukidis, associate vice president of strategic communications and external relations, said the school is not identifying whether infected persons or contacts are students, faculty or staff “for privacy reasons.”

While everyone in the CTVA classes was wearing masks, the college’s contact tracing process identified six individuals as close contacts of the positive case, meaning some participants “spent more than 15 minutes in total closer than six feet [to] the person who was infectious.”

The close contacts were notified, and their campus IDs have been turned off for the duration of their quarantine period, according to the email. The incident has been posted on Columbia’s COVID-19 Case Updates and Testing information dashboard.

In a Tuesday, Oct. 20 collegewide email from David, it was announced that most classes will be fully remote for the last three weeks of the fall semester, with the exception of 21 courses in the Cinema and Television Arts, Dance, Photography and Theatre Departments.

Of the 21 courses, four are part of the CTVA Department: “Cinematography: Camera Seminar,” “Television Arts: Production,” “Television Arts: Directing” and “Directing and Production: Narrative.”

In a Wednesday, Oct. 21 email to the Chronicle, Lukidis said “those classes will continue, with production … teams undertaking testing as an additional measure.”

Due to the incident and the evolving industry standard on film sets, Pernot and David said in the Oct. 21 email it will now be mandatory for certain students to utilize the school’s testing services on a regular basis.

“We are, starting this week, requiring that all film production participants get tested once a week as a condition of continued participation in class production projects,” the email said. “The college is reviewing other classes where this requirement may also be instituted.”

In response to a question from the Chronicle, Lukidis noted that the positive cases and the new requirement for testing of film production students does not change the college’s plans for the continuation of those in-person classes.

“We cannot be completely certain that the positive case was the result of exposure in CTVA,” Lukidis said in an email to the Chronicle. “We are updating our protocols in response to changing realities such as the uptick in cases across the city and state, and not because there is a higher risk factor in CTVA. We believe that these additional protections minimize the risk of community spread.”

The collegewide email also outlined reminders of crucial precautions against contracting COVID-19 and protocol for reporting a positive case.

David and Pernot emphasized that mask wearing is “a critical component” of the school’s safety measures in any instructional setting and time spent within six feet of one another should never add up to more than 15 minutes.

“You will be considered a close contact of a positive case even if you are wearing a mask,” the email said.

Additionally, increased air ventilation or systems such as Ultra-Violet Germicidal Irradiation “are not intended to prevent contagion in a close-contact situation,” unlike physical distancing and mask wearing.

Members of the Columbia community are expected to email if they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who tests positive, so the college can begin the contact tracing process.

“This comes in the context of growing infection numbers in Chicago, the region and the rest of the country,” Pernot and David said. “It is our belief that, with continued adherence with safety precautions and the ongoing consideration for each other that characterizes Columbia, we can successfully complete the fall semester.”