CDC Issues More Guidance to Colleges
Thursday, May 21, 2020
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines new considerations for colleges and universities to take into account as they consider and plan for reopening.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued some new guidance this past Tuesday for universities as they begin to plan for the reopening of their college campuses.
Colleges and universities will be looking to the CDC as they prepare and plan to welcome back students at some point. 19.9 million were enrolled at U.S. colleges last Fall 2019 semester/quarter. The guidance does not take a position on when or whether colleges should resume in-person classes on campus. However, it describes practices that colleges and universities should put in place to reduce the spread of coronavirus and promote a healthy student body and workforce. The guidelines provide steps that should be taken if there are suspected COVID-19 cases on campus.
The CDC guidance also notes that institutions of higher education vary quite a lot in terms of geographic location, size and structure. Therefore, IHE officials can determine, in collaboration with state and local health officials, whether and how to properly implement these considerations while adjusting to the needs and circumstances of the IHE and local community. Implementation can and should be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable and tailored to the needs of each community.
Let’s take a look at some of the areas covered by the CDC guideline.
- Strategies for colleges to promote behaviors that significantly reduce spread of the virus, including encouraging self-isolation of students, faculty or staff who are sick or have had exposure to the virus, promoting good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, and recommending the wearing of cloth face coverings. “Face coverings should be worn as feasible and are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult,” the CDC guidance states.
- Steps colleges can take to maintain healthier campus environments by promoting social distancing; ensuring proper operation of ventilation and water systems; increasing cleaning and disinfection practices; closing communal spaces such as dining halls, game rooms, exercise rooms or lounges or otherwise staggering usage of such spaces; and changing food services protocols.
- Guidelines and suggestions for protecting the physical and mental health of employees and students. The guidance recommends encouraging telework “for as many faculty and staff as possible” and giving employees and students at higher risk of severe illness due to age or underlying medical conditions the ability to telework or take on modified job responsibilities, in the case of employees, or participate in virtual instruction, in the case of students.
- Specific actions colleges should take to prepare for COVID-19 cases, including advising sick faculty, students and staff of home isolation criteria; developing protocols for isolating and transporting sick students, faculty and staff; and notifying health officials and close contacts of people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Among specific suggestions, the guidance recommends modification of classroom layouts by, for example, spacing seating and desks at least six feet apart “when feasible” and hosting smaller classes in larger classrooms. It recommends using signage or physical guides, such as tape on floors or sidewalks to encourage individuals to remain at least six feet apart, and recommends the installation of barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions, in places where it is difficult for individuals to maintain physical distance (such as cash registers).
The CDC recommends adding physical barriers, such as plastic flexible screens, between beds and bathroom sinks “especially when they cannot be at least 6 feet apart.”
With regard to campus dining, the CDC suggests providing more grab-and-go meal options. The CDC also recommends avoiding buffet or self-serve stations, and using disposable plates and utensils.
Other specific suggestions include limiting size of gatherings, restricting “nonessential visitors” and activities involving external groups “as possible,” particularly when visiting individuals and groups come from outside the local geographic area, and implementing various communications plans and flexible sick leave policies.
The American College Health Association (ACHA) recently issued recommended guidelines for colleges to consider in reopening.
ACHA shared in a statement: “CDC’s guidance and ACHA’s guidelines are aligned. Both provide considerations to decrease the risk of transmission of COVID-19 and do not advise IHEs when to reopen. Those decisions are left to the IHE in collaboration with local, state, and territorial officials. CDC guidance gives the IHE low, moderate, and high risk settings for both the general campus and the residence halls. Their recommendations are broad-based and filled with sound public health guidance. CDC has been a valued partner and credible source of information for ACHA members."