Reopening guide encourages colleges to have a backup plan

Dive Brief:

  • A new guide jointly published by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and Tuscany Strategy Consulting spells out the steps college leaders must take to resume in-person instruction amid the pandemic. 
  • That includes developing a way to monitor the spread of the virus on campus and ensuring the institution has the financial resources to respond to unforeseen circumstances.
  • The report, which provides colleges with a self-assessment tool to gauge their baseline risk factors for reopening, comes as institutions are releasing their plans for the fall term — though many still need to flesh out key details. 

Dive Insight: 

The guide emphasizes that institutions will have to carefully consider whether it’s worthwhile for students and employees to return to campus during the coronavirus crisis. “If the benefits of return do not make the risk worthwhile — for example if the quality of instruction is significantly degraded due to COVID-19 protective measures — then it may be inadvisable” to reopen, the authors write. 

Ensuring their institutions can safely hold in-person classes and other activities should be a priority for college leaders, the guide notes. 

Some of its suggestions are similar to those recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)which recommends that colleges space classroom desks at least six feet apart and host smaller class sizes in larger rooms. The CDC also recommends that members of the campus community wear face masks whenever possible. 

These and other precautions are key components of the reopening plans colleges have begun to publish. For instance, the University of Texas at Austin said it will limit classes to 40% of the room’s capacity and will teach about 20% of its courses exclusively online, the Texas Tribune reported. Students will have the option to take all of their courses online if they’re uncomfortable with returning to campus.

The University of South Florida is following similar guidelines. Officials there suggest classes with more than 50 students be held virtually and note that faculty and staff at high risk of contracting the virus do not have to teach in-person this fall, according to the Tampa Bay Times. 

Housing is also a major concern. The new planning guide notes that colleges may need to shut down residence halls where there are outbreaks and quarantine infected students. 

Likewise, the CDC notes colleges should develop protocols for isolating and transporting infected students and notifying members of the campus community who may have been in close contact with them. 

Colleges are taking different approaches to this issue. Eastern Michigan University announced this month that it’s guaranteeing that every student who requests a single room in campus housing without a roommate will have oneIt’s also lowering the price of a single room, which is more expensive than a double room, to make the option accessible to more students. 

Meanwhile, Syracuse University plans to test the sewage from its residence halls for the coronavirus, reportedSpikes in the virus could alert officials to potential outbreaks up to a week before students show symptoms. That could prompt them to test all students in a residence hall for coronavirus and spot those who could be spreading the virus without showing symptoms. 

The new guidelines also advise officials to consider the level of coronavirus transmission at which they would shut down campus again. 

To that end, some colleges have announced that they’re crafting contingency plans in the event they need to switch to online instruction mid-term. And others are wrapping up in-person instruction by the Thanksgiving holiday to avoid a potential second wave of the virus late this year. 

Regardless of the circumstances, the new guide notes that leaders’ “commitment to academic excellence must not waiver” and that they should consider equity and inclusion as key components of their response. 

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