Will your campus be able to reopen safely?

The American College Health Association has released recommendations for safely reopening colleges and universities during the COVID-19 pandemic

Newly released recommendations for safely reopening colleges and universities during the COVID-19 pandemic might not be feasible for some schools, but higher ed leaders still have options.

The college safety guidelines were produced by a task force of medical and public administration experts as part of the American College Health Association, a nonprofit.

The task force suggests testing large cohorts after reopening, but some campuses might not have the capacity to perform large-scale tests or have access to testing kits depending on their location, says task force chair Jean Chin.

Other difficulties with reopening colleges could include setting up surveillance systems to detect the emergence and spread of infection as well as isolating and gathering the data of students who have come into contact with infected people, also known as contact tracing.

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In housing, the task force recommends that residence halls move to single-room layouts with single bathrooms. “This might not be feasible for many schools without making some crucial decisions such as keeping high-risk students quarantined, creating lottery systems, mandating testing to live in residence halls and choosing to lose revenue,” says Chin, who is also an associate clinical professor of medicine at Augusta University / University of Georgia Medical Partnership, a four-year medical school campus of the Medical College of Georgia.

Complying with college safety tips

For support, schools can partner with public health and community health resources to stand up testing and contact tracing, says Chin. “Educate, educate, educate on sound public health practices, such as wearing a face covering, keeping six-feet apart, employing hand hygiene, and practicing cough and sneeze etiquette.”

Other strategies to help comply with these college safety guidelines include:

  • Deploy physical barriers like Plexiglas in reception areas
  • reconfigure chairs and desks so they don’t face each other and to increase space between them
  • tape spaces off to visually cue 6 feet distance
  • use single entry and different exit points
  • make stairs unidirectional. “This means designating one set of stairs to go up and one set to go down,” says Chin.
  • limit one person in the elevator at a time.
  • decrease class sizes or continue as much online as possible.

“Also, keep your most vulnerable population off the campus as long as you possibly can,” says Chin.

Though accurate, college leaders need to realize that information about the virus is constantly changing, so newer guidelines will likely emerge, adds Chin. “These guidelines have to be viewed through the lens of what we know today … or, really, yesterday.”

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