Looking Back at a Tumultuous Pandemic Year at Columbia

March 12, 2021

Columbia News takes a photographic look back at a pandemic year when a threat like none we had ever experienced changed everything about how we operate as a University and how we cope as a community. 

March 2020: The World Stands Still

Students leave campus and Columbia moves online as New York and the world grapple with the health risks of COVID-19. The city goes quiet and the Morningside Campus and its neighboring streets have an eerie, uncharacteristic stillness.

A student rolls a suitcase and backpack off Morningside campus.
An empty street, void of cars and people, in upper Manhattan.

Spring 2020: Essential Workers Report for Duty and Graduation Goes Virtual

A grateful Columbia community gets to work remotely as our essential workers keep the University running and face the healthcare crisis.

In May, the Class of 2020 comes together in an around-the-world celebration. Virtual Commencement doesn't look or feel the way we had hoped, but the pride and joy remain.

A custodion in braids and a face mask pushes a cart of cleaning supplies on Columbia's campus.
Medical staff at Columbia walk down the sidewalk with facemasks.
Dr. Angela Mills in scrubs looking exhausted with goggle marks on face.
Two Columbia students in graduate robes pop champagne in front of Butler Library.

Summer 2020: Protest and Community Relief

Our community stands together during a summer of protest against anti-Black violence. And COVID-19 pushes the food insecurity crisis to new levels, which the University faces through relief programs and partnerships that include the Columbia Neighbors Food Relief Fund and Columbia Dining producing 1,000 meals a day for St. John the Divine's local food distribution program with City Harvest.

A man looks at street art reading "Black and indigenous LIVES MATTER"
A sign on the historic Apollo Theater reads "#SAYTHEIRNAMES"
A line of sandwiches stretches from Columbia Dining workers preparing food packages for the community.
A group of Columbia Dining works gather around a City Harvest truck with masks on.
A dining worker in Harlem poses in front of a sign reading "HARLEM STRONG"

Fall 2020: Campus Reopens for Hybrid Learning and Research

In-person teaching, learning, and research return to campus on a small scale and with rigorous health protocols in place. Virtual courses and hybrid classrooms become the norm and the weather makes socially distant learning possible almost anywhere on campus.

Roaree, Columbia's mascot, poses by a "Stay Healthy" campaign.
Two essential workers in PPE prepare vials for COVID testing on Columbia's campus.
A researcher in PPE works on Columbia's campus.
A family in masks poses by a student moving  into Columbia's dorms.
Students sit in a socially-distanced circle on Low Steps for class.
Students sit in a classroom with masks on while other students are on Zoom.

Winter 2020: The Vaccine Arrives

While the country is still very much in the midst of a public health crisis, vaccination efforts offer a glimmer of hope. Essential workers who provide care to patients were among the first people eligible for a dose. As they were vaccinated and got back to work, holiday traditions continued on campus, bringing much-needed warmth on cold, snowy days.

A man in scrubs and mask receives the vaccine.
A woman receives a shot in the arm with a COVID-19 vaccine.
Visitors in masks revel in the College Walk holiday lights.

March 2021: Heroes and Hope

For one year, our city has been consumed by the pandemic, and throughout it all, our healthcare workers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital continue to serve our communities as "superheroes." Because of them, we can all hope that 2021 will bring better days for our community and the world.

A hand-made sign reading "SUPERHEROES" on CUIMC's campus
A sign in Harlem reading "HOPE" in colorful letters.

If you want to see more photos that encapsulate life at the University, please check out our ongoing Photo of the Week series