The Centers for Disease Control has a message for higher education leaders: Keep doing what you’re doing regarding safety protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The positive case numbers are not subsiding.
The CDC released data for the Aug. 2-Sept. 5 period that showed an increase of 55% nationally in positive results for coronavirus among 18-22-year-olds, with the Northeast and Midwest both exhibiting big spikes among that cohort at more than 140% and 120%, respectively.
The Center said a number of factors could have contributed to the rise in cases but that an increase in testing was likely not the only trigger. Because 45% of those in that age bracket attend colleges, the CDC did say that the “resumption of in-person attendance” likely aided those increases.
It urged institutions to continue measures it says help prevent or reduce transmission of the disease – mask wearing, social distancing and hand-washing hygiene.
“To prevent cases on campuses and broader spread within communities, it is critically important for students, faculty, and staff members at colleges and universities to remain vigilant and take steps to reduce the risk for SARS-CoV-2 transmission in these settings,” the CDC’s researchers noted. “Institutions of higher education should support students and communities by taking action to promote healthy environments.”
Colleges across the U.S. have gone above and beyond that broad call for action with a number of hardline strategies: providing daily updates to students through various channels, launching COVID-19 dashboards, testing students and even meting out punishments for those who gather in large groups on and off campus.
Gatherings, in particular, have a been a source of frustration for higher education institutions looking to reopen safely and for the communities that surround them. Despite all of the warnings and myriad rules and regulations being put in place by colleges and universities to prevent them from happening, students are finding their ways to parties and large events – even some in residence halls – with some flaunting their ability to do so.
In its recent release, the CDC reiterated that young adults were “less likely than are other age groups to adhere to some COVID-19 prevention measures.” There may be other factors at play as well in the increase in positivity rates, the CDC suggests, such as recent social, economic and public policy changes, though it did not provide specifics.
On Thursday, the Boulder County Health Department in Colorado, fed up with the number of college students getting together, issued a specific ban on gatherings among 18-22-year-olds, not only near campuses but throughout the city.
The CDC did mention the cost of students continuing to shun its guidance. It noted that of 18-22-year-olds who attend a college or university, one-third live with a parent. Many either reside with, or come into contact with, older people who have serious health conditions and could be harmed if those precautions aren’t taken. It also said students are also not immune from the effects of the disease, pointing to myocardial inflammation as a possible outcome for those who may get the virus.
Earlier this week, a seemingly healthy 19-year-old basketball player from Appalachian State died from COVID-19 and last Friday, a junior at the University of Hawaii West Oahu died after contracting coronavirus.
The importance of colleges and universities to continue messaging and other strategies to prevent spread is key to a safe campus.
Most institutions have told stakeholders, either in materials handed out to students and parents or on social media and websites, that they are adhering to CDC guidelines.
Among those recommendations, the Centers for Disease Control offers a number of strategies for institutions. Based on those, leaders should continue to ask themselves these questions to ensure their campuses are safe:
- Do you have a multi-tiered communications and messaging strategy in place in crisis moments and in any other outreach to those within your community during COVID-19?
- What is your policy on gatherings, both on and off campus? Are your working with local officials to ensure that fraternities and sororities or others living off campus are adhering to state and local rules?
- Are you testing students and providing up-to-date, accurate numbers to those in your community? Is your COVID-19 dashboard really giving stakeholders the information they need?
- What are your policies regarding students, staff and faculty who may contract the virus? Are you asking them to self-isolate? If you are offering to transport them to health facilities, is that working well? Are you being flexible with giving employees leave? Do you have enough staff to cover for others, including administrative workers, should they become ill?
- Do you have adequate PPE for everyone on campus? Are staff refilling hand sanitizer stations and cleaning solutions? Is everyone really wearing a mask at all times when coming near or in contact with others? Are cleaning and disinfecting measures meeting standards your institution has set? Are ventilation systems and their filters updated?
- Do you have enough signage across campus that encourages students and staff to adhere to campus guidelines?
- Are there still spaces on campus where you need to erect physical barriers where social distancing is not occurring?
- Are you protecting your staff that might be at higher risk by offering them and encouraging them to work virtually if they can, to telework or limit travel?
Chris Burt is a reporter and editor for University Business. He can be reached at [email protected]