CDC guidelines
According to CDC guidelines, schools and universities must make several unique considerations when reopening. Source: Michael Reaves/Getty Images via AFP

U.S. universities are contemplating how campus activities will proceed in the new academic year. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines will guide these decisions.

CDC released Considerations for Institutes of Higher Education in late May, detailing how universities, or IHEs, can protect their staff and students from COVID-19.

Though some universities are prioritising remote, online instruction, others are ready to restore campus activity in stages.

Here, we summarise the main points you should bear in mind if you are returning to campus this September.

Campus activity should be determined by risk level

Since universities vary in location, size, and structure, each must determine how to implement CDC guidelines in line with state and federal health authorities.

They must determine an acceptable risk profile. Virtual-only options are low-risk; smaller. Staggered, or hybrid in-person activities with social distancing carry more risk, while full-sized activities as per pre-virus days fall under the highest risk.

CDC guidelines

A medical professional administers a coronavirus test at a drive-thru testing site run by George Washington University Hospital, May 26, 2020 in Washington, DC. Source: Drew Angerer/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

Similarly, keeping residence halls closed bears the lowest risk. Lowering capacity with no shared spaces carry more risk, while full-capacity residency including shared spaces have the highest risk.

Universities are encouraged to facilitate virtual learning even if in-person classes are possible. This will ensure allow students who are not able to get to campus to not miss class.

Social distancing still rules in-person interactions

As COVID-19 spreads through close interactions, the principal idea is to limit in-person meetings.

When attending class or engaging in experiential learning opportunities, everyone should be seated at least six feet apart. Colleges and universities are encouraged to indicate this space by taping off seats or modifying layouts of public spaces.

If it’s hard to maintain this distance, physical barriers (such as sneeze guards) and guides (such as tape on floors and sidewalks) should be set up.

Additionally, the number of people in shared spaces such as dining halls, gyms, and lounges should be restricted. Universities must also prepare sufficient learning aids (books, iPads) and facilities (art or lab supplies) to prevent students from having to share.

CDC guidelines

This is what the new normal looks like: hand sanitisers and social distancing in public spaces. Source: Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

Top priorities: Hygiene and cleanliness

Face-covering, hand-washing and sanitising must be observed in accordance with CDC guidelines. Colleges and universities should support these healthy hygiene habits by providing supplies such as soap, tissues, and hand sanitiser (with at least 60% alcohol).

As many universities are reopening after months of closure, they must first thoroughly clean and disinfect all spaces and systems.

On top of that, they must prioritise the cleanliness of communal spaces. These spaces should also be regularly cleaned and disinfected, along with frequently-touched surfaces such as staircase railings and door handles.

What can students do to help? For one, keep windows and doors open to encourage good ventilation. Minimise sharing water features; bring your own water from home instead of using drinking fountains.

CDC guidelines

People sit on the patio of a restaurant on Ocean Drive in South Beach, Miami, on May 27, 2020, as Miami Beach reopens to business. Source: Chandan Khanna/AFP

Establish new protocol where necessary. Always refer to CDC guidelines

All staff must be suitably trained to prepare for this new normal. Administrators must plan back-up staffing and revise leave and absence policies to make them more flexible.

Staff and students should know not to come in if they are sick or exposed to COVID-19. If someone tests positive, they must immediately notify the IHE so subsequent action can be taken to mitigate its spread on campus.

Those who have been exposed to COVID-19 should still self-isolate. They should follow CDC guidelines when determining whether it’s safe to return if they’ve had COVID-19 or come in close contact with someone who has.

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