It took some time for its new guidance to be released, but the American College Health Association is recommending that all colleges and universities now not only require COVID-19 vaccinations of all students but booster shots, too.
The ACHA says vaccines are a valuable tool in limiting both the strain on the healthcare system and mitigating potential risk caused by new variants. The guidance does not specifically address the highly transmissible but less severe omicron but does lean toward a more conservative approach to dealing with COVID-19, falling on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new recommendations that all eligible Americans get boosters.
“We know how challenging this process is given conflicting messages; evolving guidelines; and expectations from campus leaders, students, faculty, and staff,” the ACHA’s Board of Directors wrote to members, some of whom offered concerns to its Task Force over the past few days. “Simply stated, it’s not easy to be serving as a campus public health leader right now. What has become clear is that there is no one-size-fits-all plan to address the current situation”
The ACHA’s last update came in early December as it awaited further public health guidance, with widespread criticism being levied against the CDC for its waffling on COVID-19 policies. One of those that impacts institutions trying to reopen safely this winter is testing and isolation, especially for those who have contracted the virus.
The ACHA says colleges can utilize five-day or 10-day periods (for congregate settings) of isolation for infected individuals. But for those who are coming out of the five-day window after the first signs of symptoms, colleges should insist that they present a negative rapid antigen test. Those who are still positive after the test can be tested 2-3 days later. If they are negative, they can be released from isolation.
“Serial testing allows students to return to class as soon as possible,” the ACHA says. “If colleges cannot test or choose not to do testing as a condition for release, students should leave isolation only if they are asymptomatic or have symptom resolution, which includes having been fever-free for 24 hours without the use of antipyretics.”
As for isolation itself, the ACHA says colleges can use three standards in preventing large outbreaks from occurring:
- Giving the option for students to isolate at home
- Placing them into housing strictly for those who are COVID-positive
- Or the latest, allowing students to isolate in their own rooms provided that their roommates are agreeable to the risk or given alternative housing.
Institutions that opt for the third choice must factor in whether that roommate is in a high-risk category or immunocompromised. Those institutions with communal bathrooms must take added precautions to ensure further safety of all students, including improved ventilation and cleaning.
As most colleges and universities have done that opened for in-person learning this semester, testing should be done before arriving on campus and upon arrival. The ACHA also recommends surveillance testing, although campuses limiting in testing scope can do so for individuals who are symptomatic and their close contacts. Another high-cost item, contact tracing is simply not feasible for many colleges, and asking students to stay vigilant may be a better strategy.
More recently, many public health experts have cautioned that cloth masks and gaiters simply do not work in preventing transmission, particularly with omicron. The ACHA is following those calls, stating that colleges should “distribute and promote N95, KN95, or ASTM-rated surgical masks.” Those that don’t have the resources to give them to students or where better masks are not available can encourage double-masking. They should also be pressing students to wear them properly, ensuring that they are form-fitting.
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