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Considerations for Institutes of Higher Education ' CDC

Guiding Principles to Keep in Mind

The more a person interacts with others, and the longer that interaction lasts, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread in the community. Risk is also affected by factors such as background rates of infection in the community and individuals’ compliance with mitigation strategies, such as use of masking, social distancing, and hand hygiene. IHEs should communicate their selected level of risk so that people can make more informed decisions about attendance, especially those with disabilities and people who are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID. The risk of COVID-19 spread increases in IHE non-residential (i.e., off-campus housing) and residential (i.e., on-campus housing) settings with the level of COVID activity in the community and as follows:

IHE General Settings

Lowest Risk

  • Faculty and students engage in virtual-only learning options, activities, and events.

Some Risk

  • Students, faculty, and staff follow all steps to protect themselves and others at all times, including proper use of face masks, social distancing, and hand hygiene.
  • Hybrid learning model: Students participate in virtual learning, and in-person learning is limited to courses and laboratory instruction that cannot be delivered remotely.
  • Students, faculty, and staff participate in small, in-person classes, activities, and events that allow individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart (e.g., lecture room with individual seating spaced 6 feet apart).
  • Students avoid out-of-class social gatherings and events and communications and policies discouraged these activities.
  • Apply and support strict adherence to cohorting, alternating schedules, and staggered schedules in residence halls, dining areas, and recreational areas on campus to create small groups of students and minimize their contact with others (e.g., small cohorts of freshmen who live and learn together).
  • Students, faculty, and staff do not share objects (e.g., laboratory, art, or recreational equipment and supplies).
  • Regularly scheduled (e.g., at least daily or between uses) cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched areas occur as planned (i.e., on-time and consistently).

Medium Risk

  • Students, faculty, and staff follow all steps to protect themselves and others such as proper use of face masks, social distancing, and hand hygiene.
  • Hybrid learning model: Students participate in a mix of virtual learning and in-person learning for all courses (in-person learning is not limited to specific courses).
  • Students, faculty, and staff participate in larger in-person classes, activities, and events that allow people to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart (e.g., classroom with marked seating or seating removed to encourage sitting 6 feet apart).
  • Apply cohorting, alternating schedules, and staggered schedules with some exceptions in residence halls, dining areas, and recreational areas on campus.
  • Students, faculty, and staff participate in limited, small out-of-class social gatherings and events.
  • Students, faculty, and staff dine outside whenever possible, or in well ventilated rooms with social distancing applied.
  • Students and faculty share objects minimally (e.g., sharing of objects is limited to one person at a time for laboratory, art, or recreational equipment and supplies that cannot be purchased or assigned individually and that are wiped down with disinfectant, as possible, between uses).
  • Regularly scheduled cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched areas occur as planned with few exceptions.

Higher Risk

  • Students, faculty, and staff follow some steps to protect themselves and others at all times such as proper use of face masks, social distancing, and hand hygiene.
  • Students and faculty engage in in-person only learning, activities, and events.
  • Students, faculty, and staff attend several small out-of-class social gatherings and events.
  • Students, faculty, and staff dine in indoor dining rooms while maintaining social distancing.
  • Students and faculty share some objects (e.g., sharing of objects is limited to one group of students at a time for laboratory, art, or recreational equipment and supplies that cannot be purchased or assigned individually and that are wiped down with disinfectant, as possible, between uses).
  • Irregularly scheduled cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched areas.

Highest Risk

  • Use of public buses, campus buses/shuttles or other high occupancy enclosed vehicles with limited ventilation and/or that require students, faculty, or staff to have sustained close contract with others. CDC’s Protect Yourself When Using Transportation provides tips for minimizing your risk when using public transportation.
  • Students, faculty, and staff do not/are not required to follow steps such as proper use of face masks, social distancing, hand hygiene to protect themselves and others.
  • Students and faculty regularly engage in in-person learning, activities, and events.
  • Students, faculty, and staff attend large out-of-class social gatherings and events.
  • Students and faculty freely share objects.
  • Students, faculty, and staff dine in indoor dining rooms without social distancing.
  • Irregularly scheduled cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched areas.

COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly by respiratory droplets released when people talk, cough, or sneeze. It is thought that the virus may spread to hands from a contaminated surface and then to the nose or mouth, causing infection. Therefore, personal prevention practices (such as handwashing, staying home when sick) and environmental prevention practices (such as cleaning and disinfection) are important principles that are covered in this document. Fortunately, there are a number of actions IHE administrators can take to help lower the risk of COVID-19 exposure and spread.

Plan and Prepare

Review, update, and implement emergency operations plans (EOPs)

Most importantly, IHE administrators need to plan and prepare for reopening or keeping IHEs open. Regardless of the number of current cases in a community, every IHE should have a plan in place to protect staff and students from the spread of COVID-19. This should be done in collaboration with state, local, tribal, and territorial public health departments, the IHE’s university system (if applicable), and other relevant partners. IHEs should prioritize EOP components that address infectious disease outbreaks and related consequences.

Reference key resources on emergency preparedness while reviewing, updating, and implementing the EOP

  • Multiple federal agencies have developed resources on school planning principles and a 6-step processpdf iconexternal icon for creating plans to build and continually foster safe and healthy school communities before, during, and after possible emergencies.
  • Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) Technical Assistance (TA) Center’s websiteexternal icon has free resources, trainings, and TA for schools, including IHEs, and their community partners. Resources include those on emergency planning and response to infectious disease outbreaks. IHEs might find this guidance for developing a high-quality EOP helpful.
  • Workers (faculty and other school staff), students, and other community members should be involved in developing the EOP because broad worker and community involvement is needed.

Planning and strategies should include

  • Daily review of official public health data for the community surrounding the IHE to keep track of the current state of COVID-19 spread.
  • Development of information-sharing systems with school and community partners. Institutional information systems can be used for day-to-day reporting on number of cases and information, such as absenteeism or changes in student and staff health center traffic to detect and respond to an outbreak.
  • Ways to promote healthy behaviors that reduce the spread of COVID-19, maintain healthy campus environments and operations, and outline what to do if someone gets sick.
  • Ways to enforce or ensure compliance of healthy behaviors that reduce the spread of COVID-19.
  • Assessment of the accessibility of information and resources to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and maintain healthy environments.
  • Criteria for IHE suspension of in-person learning to stop or slow the spread of COVID-19, as well as criteria for determining when to resume in-person learning.
  • Strategies that ensure residents and staff use practices to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in the event of IHE suspension or need to self-quarantine for the following:
    • Continuing education
    • Meal programs
    • Continuity of housing
    • Other services
  • Considerations for students, faculty, and staff with disabilities and people who are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID.
  • Considerations for students, faculty, and staff with disabilities, including effective communication of the IHE’s COVID-related plans and accessibility of the IHE’s services.
  • Considerations for Limited English Proficient (LEP) students, faculty, and staff to ensure meaningful communication with them regarding the IHE’s practices to reduce the risk of COVID-19 and how to continue education, meals, other services, etc. (e.g., use of interpreters and translated materials).

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