California’s reopening guidance bars indoor college lectures in dozens of counties

Dive Brief: 

  • California health officials released guidance Friday to help colleges there prepare to hold in-person classes amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

  • Colleges in the state have been waiting on the guidance and have crafted reopening plans without knowing what health officials would ultimately approve, the Los Angeles Times reported

  • The guidance’s core tenets — which include mandating masks, promoting handwashing and frequently cleaning regularly touched surfaces — also feature in other states’ instructions for reopening higher education institutions this fall. 

Dive Insight: 

The guidance spells out what safety measures California colleges must implement in order to reopen their campuses this fall. It also bars institutions from holding indoor lectures if they’re located in a county that is on the state’s coronavirus watchlist for three consecutive days, though they can still hold labs and studio arts inside. 

State officials are monitoring new coronavirus cases and deaths, among other data, to determine whether they should place counties on the watchlist. About three dozen counties were on it as of Monday afternoon, including those that are home to populous cities such as San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles.

However, many California institutions said they were planning for an online fall before the guidance was released. 

In Los Angeles County, Claremont McKenna College announced in late July that it wouldn’t be able to resume in-person instruction this fall, reversing its earlier intention to reopen campus. Nearby Scripps and Pomona colleges made a similar decision earlier in the month. 

And the California State University System, whose Northridge campus is in Los Angeles, along with the University of Southern California, were among the first institutions to announce they would be preparing for an online fall.

To prevent outbreaks, colleges should identify anyone who has been in close contact with a student or employee who tests positive for the virus, the California guidance notes. It considers close contact to be within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes. Institutions should also provide virtual learning experiences for students at higher risk of developing severe illness from coronavirus infection. 

The guidance also has strict requirements for when athletic practices and competitions can resume. Colleges must be able to test their athletes and receive results within 72 hours of a competition. They also must have the ability to conduct robust contact tracing.

Other states have recently released similar plans. New York City, for example, allowed its higher education institutions to resume in-person instruction again when it entered the last stage of its phased reopening plan. However, colleges were required to submit reopening plans for the state to review.

Officials there crafted several requirements for colleges. They include mandating masks in common areas or when social distancing isn’t possible, regularly disinfecting facilities and screening students and employees for symptoms of COVID-19, the illness the virus causes. 

Health departments in Minnesota and North Carolina have also recently released guidance for their colleges. And dozens of counties nationwide have done the same. 

But not all colleges are complying with their recommendations. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is bucking the advice of public health officials by forging ahead with plans to resume in-person classes Monday. The Orange County Health Department recommended in a letter last month that it start the first five weeks of the academic year online because confirmed cases were climbing.

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