Covid: What You Need to Know Before Your Surgical Appointment
This interview was updated on June 17, 2021, to include the latest information regarding pre-op Covid-19 testing for vaccinated patients.
- Appointments & Scheduling
- Covid-19 Testing
- Hospital Experience
- Covid-19 Vaccination
- Testing & Vaccine Sites
As more and more of the population get vaccinated, aspects of social life are starting to return. We’re ready! But ending this pandemic will require us to use every tool in the toolbox—that includes wearing a mask, hand washing, and social distancing.
Covid safety is still our priority in the hospital. Just as we have been throughout this entire pandemic, we are ready to take care of you. Please don’t hesitate to get the care you need when you need it.
We interviewed Francine Castillo, Director of Practice Operations, to discuss everything you need to know about appointments, surgery, Covid-19 testing, and vaccination.
For those who need in-patient surgery but it isn’t as urgent, say a cyst, when can they expect to be scheduled?
We’re thrilled to report that our scheduling times are back to normal. Generally, you should expect to leave your appointment with a surgery date, only in some cases has the process changed. We don’t want to promise you something and then have to cancel or delay your procedure. So for cases like a cyst when we can’t schedule you in the office that day–though most likely you will be scheduled—we’ll tell you “We have you on standby, be ready.” For the more serious procedures like cancer, they will absolutely leave with a date no matter what.
Is there anything else we should know about this evolving process?
We’re finally getting back into a normal groove, and that should continue to roll smoothly. All we ask for is patience. There are still moving parts with pre-op testing and scheduling, and we promise you will be cared for and scheduled in a timely manner. Most importantly, I say this in bold—if you are a surgery patient or a surgical candidate and you aren’t fully vaccinated, stay home.
We had a patient who was pushed on the calendar a few times but kept testing negative which is important. Then had a gathering and when they went in for pre-op testing got a positive test. We had to cancel the procedure. Naturally, they were really upset, and they weren’t out at restaurants, someone exposed them at home.
If you are a surgical candidate, it’s best you don’t travel three weeks before your surgery date. And if you’re vaccinated, please stay mindful when out and about. Follow guidelines, wear your mask when called for, and wash your hands.
Are there any changes to non-surgical appointments?
We’re on a relatively normal schedule and able to accommodate all appointments: non-surgical procedures, physical exams, testing. But we are keeping volume more limited hour to hour to ensure your safety with strict social distancing measures, staggered appointments, and screenings. So, expect that you may have to wait an extra week or two to get your elective outpatient procedure, for example, but we will get you on the schedule.
Have office hours changed, are they the same Monday-Friday?
Our office hours are Monday through Friday, and we do have some expanded appointment time during the week, but the big thing to know is that we are operating 7 days a week. We are doing everything we can to get you seen, treated, and cared for as soon as possible.
Are there any cases or situations that you would recommend a patient hold off on coming in to receive care?
No! Our surgeons can attest to this, and I think Dr. Chabot has mentioned it, but we’re seeing more severe cases than we should at times because people have put off care. You know, we are here to take care of you safely. Even if you have an issue that you’re pretty sure isn’t urgent—say you’re having a vein issue that may be viewed as cosmetic generally but you have some discomfort, don’t put it off. Call your doctor and get checked out, whether by video or in person. If you’re most comfortable doing that first appointment at home, great, all of our doctors are doing virtual care. And know that the actual procedure may take a little extra time, but don’t delay getting that process started.
I’ll link to our article on video visits here. But if you need to come in for an appointment, any changes to the screening process when you arrive?
Well, first still be wearing a mask. You must have a mask on to enter the building whether you are vaccinated or not. Then you’ll enter one of the designated entrances, likely the Herbert Irving Pavilion or Milstein entrance. Security is there, but you don't have to show your ID anymore, and there are screening stations set up. They’ll take your temperature, ask screening questions, and also confirm your appointment.
Patients can now bring someone with them to an appointment, is that right?
Yes! For non-surgical appointments we can now allow you to bring one support person. The same goes for same-day surgery, you are welcome to bring one guest to stay with you through intake and then rejoin you for the discharge process. We still cannot have any visitors in the PACU [Post Anesthesia Care Unit] while you’re waking up, but your visitor can rejoin afterward.
Additionally, we are now able to allow two visitors per patient, one at a time, in our in-patient units between the hours of 9 am and 8 pm, and 2 caregivers or support persons for pediatric patients in in-patient units. [Read more about the visitor policy here]
What are elevators and waiting rooms like?
Our goal is still to avoid the waiting rooms as much as we can and get you right back to the exam room. But it’s the same drill—limit of four to an elevator, lines must be properly spaced six feet apart. We have escorts, floor decals, and elevator decals that make social distancing as simple as possible.
Waiting rooms have designated seating and signage, and the areas are cleaned frequently. If spacing is limited in the waiting room, a companion may be asked to wait outside until the patient is brought to exam room. This isn’t happening often but something to be mindful of. We're still doing check-in online and any payments online to keep physical transactions to a minimum. Make sure you have created a myConnect account with our online medical records system, I promise it makes all of this easier for you. And once you’re here, it’s actually very calm.
Is there anything else we need to know?
The only thing I ask is that you just be flexible with us. Maybe you’re an early bird and normally you like to have all your appointments at 9 am, but right now it may be best for you to come in the afternoon while we are social distancing. Things like that.
Let’s review Covid testing policy for appointments—what’s the current policy?
This is the most important thing to get right, we’ve made recent updates—If you are unvaccinated and coming in for a procedure or surgery, you must have Covid testing done within 5 days of your procedure or appointment—PCR tests and antigen tests are now accepted.
For any other in-office appointment like imaging tests, skin biopsy, things like that, you do not need a pre-appointment Covid test unless your physician specifies otherwise. Covid testing procedure for in-office visits is at your physician’s discretion, and some treatments may require it.
Most vaccinated patients do not need a Covid test for outpatient surgery, endoscopy/colonoscopy procedures, or office procedures. But if you have been exposed to Covid-19, have symptoms, or traveled internationally within 10 days of your procedure, you must get a Covid test. A PCR or Antigen test is still required for all inpatient procedures whether you are vaccinated or not. And it must be within that 5-day window.
Please note that our labs on campus do not do antigen testing but your results from another testing site will be accepted. For PCR tests at one of our offices, you can go to one of our testing locations with an order from your doctor. All you need to do is call the office and they’ll get you set up right away to make an appointment, but know that you cannot just walk in.
Where are these locations?
Pre-op patients can schedule a PCR test in our APEX clinic at Milstein on main campus no more than 5 days before the procedure, or you can schedule a test at any of our other locations: Bronxville, Rockland, Westchester, or Tarrytown.
Now for our pediatric patients, patients go to a testing location in Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital on 4 North.
We will put all the details for testing locations at the end of this article, but to clarify, if you go to an urgent care near your apartment and get an antigen test, that will be accepted?
Yes, getting tested before your procedure just got a lot easier. But please be mindful to get your testing done with enough time to receive results. If you’re getting a PCR test, make sure you give enough time within the 5 days prior to your appointment to receive your PCR test results. Let the doctor’s office know your procedure date so you get the results on time.
Okay, what if I’ve just finished chemo and radiation and it’s time for my cancer surgery—I’m on the schedule. How different will this experience be?
Right now, you know, the only difference is the limit on visitors. You can bring one guest to stay with you through the intake process and they will be screened upon entry. Once you’re here it should be much of the same experience. You’ll get your Covid test a few days before, then day-of you’ll start by seeing your nurse practitioner or doctor for an exam, go down to the lab, and get regular tests. All the same pre-op stuff, then go in for your procedure.
Technically, you can still get your Covid test day-of with your pre-op labs but we don’t recommend it. We have had patients come back with positive tests and then need to reschedule their procedure after coming all the way here at 5am and doing all the pre-op work. It’s not worth the risk.
Is there a process in place to notify family or designated caregiver with updates throughout and after the procedure?
Absolutely, they can expect a phone call. Most of our surgeons are calling right from their cell phones. And then later on, when in inpatient recovery, you will be allowed to have two guests, one at a time, for up to four hours each between 9 am and 8 pm. For any other times, Ipads are available so your loved ones can speak to your surgeon with you and be in the room, so to speak.
Talk to us about vaccine access—who can get vaccinated and where is it available?
As you know, we are vaccinating New Yorkers here on campus and at our other offices throughout the city and region. All vaccinations are by appointment, and any resident over the age of 12 is eligible.
I mentioned the importance of making sure you have a Columbia Connect account. It’s where all your medical information lives, where you can do video appointments, see prescriptions, message your doctor, make appointments, and most importantly for this conversation, how you can schedule your Covid vaccine.
Schedule your Covid-19 vaccine and create a Columbia Connect account here. Visit the New York state Covid-19 Vaccine Finder page for the most up-to-date information on appointments at vaccination sites nearest you.
Is it possible to get vaccinated while in the office for an appointment?
Great question. Right now, the answer is no. Only specified locations on campus are administering the Covid-19 vaccine, but there are appointments available every day.
Any closing thoughts?
We want you to know that we’re doing everything we can to open up more alternatives with expanded hours and now our surgeons are seeing patients all over the tri-state area. We have offices upstate, in New Jersey, and other boroughs of the city. We’re doing Covid testing and vaccination on campus and at those locations. So don’t hesitate to give us a call. Let’s talk about what you need!
By appointment only, with written order from your physician.
APEX Clinic, Milstein Hospital *Adult Pre-op only
173 Fort Washington Ave, Heart Center, Room LL1
New York, NY
Milstein Tents *No Pre-op testing
Tent 1: Symptomatic only
Tent 2: Asymptomatic only
3975 Broadway (167th and Broadway, in front of Adult Emergency Entrance)
Bronxville, Lawrence Hospital
77 Pondfield Road, Suite 1 F2B (located on the first floor)
26 Indian Rock Plaza
15 North Broadway
White Plains, NY
19 Bradhurst Ave, Suite 700
155 White Plains Road
Pediatrics PCR Testing
Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, 4 North Periop Area
3959 Broadway (at W 165th street)
New York, NY
By Appointment Only
The William Black Medical Research Building
650 W 168th Street.
New York, NY
ADA accessible at entrance.
The Belfer Research Building
413 E 69th Street.
ADA accessible at entrance.
Vaccine Center Fact Sheet (Includes directions, parking)
ColumbiaDoctors White Plains, NY Office
15 North Broadway
White Plains, NY 10601
ColumbiaDoctors Suffern, NY Office
26 Indian Rock
Suffern, NY 10901
51 W 51st Street
New York, NY 10019
Columbia Primary Care Manhattan Valley
New York, NY 10025
Appointment availability changes daily but there are usually openings every day. Eligibility of patients for vaccination is determined by state guidelines. Check here for updates and information.