COVID-19 Sample Notifications for K-12 and College Campuses
These scenario-based notifications, provided by an attorney, include sample messaging for if someone in your campus community tests positive for the virus.
What should we do if we learn that a member of our school, college, or university community has been exposed to or tested positive for COVID-19?
First, contact your local health officials for guidance and follow relevant government agency guidance.
Second, consider whether the circumstances, including health official guidance and your institutional culture, call for notifying at least some portion of your community. Several issues bear consideration:
- If your institution has been closed for weeks or the person at issue has not been in the community, a notice may not be necessary and may serve only to exacerbate anxiety.
- Maintain confidentiality. While certain health and safety exceptions may apply—for example, in communication with government officials or true health emergencies—almost all community notifications can be made without identifying individuals who have been exposed to or contracted the virus.
- Ensure factual accuracy throughout any community communication.
- Stay up-to-date on constantly shifting official and best practice guidance.
- Strike the right tone. Notifications serve to alert those who need to have information. They can also serve to remind your community that it is supported by your institution and to follow appropriate protocols.
Following is a sample notification anticipating three common COVID-19 exposure scenarios, which should be adjusted to fit the facts and circumstances at hand. Note that there are no known “magic words” for these notifications at this time. The essential goals are to provide clear and accurate information in line with up-to-date guidance and to convey your support for your community.
To all members of the [INSTITUTION] Community:
The welfare and safety of our community during this time is [INSTITUTION’S] primary concern. We are writing to inform you of a recent development relating to COVID-19. [CONSIDER ADDING BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF WHAT INSTITUTION HAS BEEN DOING TO MONITOR THE SITUATION, KEEP FAMILIES/STUDENTS AND EMPLOYEES INFORMED, ETC.]
We recently learned of one [DESCRIBE PERSON’S CONNECTION TO THE INSTITUTION – PROSPECTIVE STUDENT, STUDENT, PARENT, EMPLOYEE, ETC.] who [DESCRIBE NATURE, TIMING, AND DURATION OF INTERACTIONS WITH THE INSTITUTION – CAMPUS VISIT, TAKING CLASSES, WORKING, ETC.] has …
Scenario 1: Person Has Been Exposed to COVID-19 But No Symptoms and No Test
… [DESCRIBE NATURE OF EXPOSURE – E.G., ATTENDED A CONFERENCE WHERE ANOTHER ATTENDEE WAS DIAGNOSED WITH COVID-19]. Based upon the information available to us, we understand that this individual has been in contact with a COVID-19 positive person. This individual is not currently experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms and has not been diagnosed as having COVID-19. Public and [INSTITUTION] healthcare officials acted quickly and we understand appropriate protocols are being followed. [INSERT RELEVANT INFORMATION FROM HEALTH OFFICIALS – E.G., THE LOCAL HEALTH DEPARTMENT HAS EMPHASIZED TO US THAT NO ACTION NEEDS TO BE TAKEN BY THE CAMPUS COMMUNITY AT THIS TIME.]
Scenario 2: Person Has Been Exposed to COVID-19 and Is Experiencing Symptoms but No Test Results
… [DESCRIBE NATURE OF EXPOSURE – E.G., HAD A FAMILY MEMBER DIAGNOSED WITH COVID-19]. Based upon the information available to us, we understand that this individual has been in contact with a COVID-19 positive person. This individual has also experienced COVID-19 symptoms and is therefore in the process of being tested for COVID-19. Public and [INSTITUTION] healthcare officials acted quickly and we understand appropriate protocols are being followed. [INSERT RELEVANT INFORMATION FROM HEALTH OFFICIALS – E.G., THE LOCAL HEALTH DEPARTMENT HAS EMPHASIZED TO US THAT NO ACTION NEEDS TO BE TAKEN BY THE CAMPUS COMMUNITY AT LARGE AT THIS TIME. IF YOU ARE KNOWN TO HAVE HAD DIRECT EXPOSURE TO THIS INDIVIDUAL IN INSTITUTION PROGRAMS, EMPLOYMENT, OR ACTIVITIES, WE HAVE PREVIOUSLY CONTACTED YOU DIRECTLY AND OFFERED ADDITIONAL GUIDANCE.] If this individual tests positive for COVID-19, we will determine what additional steps are necessary and appropriate to help protect the health and safety of our community.
Scenario 3: Person Has Tested Positive for COVID-19
… tested positive for COVID-19. Public and [INSTITUTION] healthcare officials acted quickly and we understand appropriate protocols are being followed. [INSERT RELEVANT INFORMATION FROM HEALTH OFFICIALS – E.G., THE LOCAL HEALTH DEPARTMENT HAS EMPHASIZED TO US THAT NO ACTION NEEDS TO BE TAKEN BY THE CAMPUS COMMUNITY AT LARGE AT THIS TIME. IF YOU ARE KNOWN TO HAVE HAD DIRECT EXPOSURE TO THIS INDIVIDUAL IN INSTITUTION PROGRAMS, EMPLOYMENT, OR ACTIVITIES, WE HAVE PREVIOUSLY CONTACTED YOU DIRECTLY AND OFFERED ADDITIONAL GUIDANCE.]
We understand that this is a difficult situation at several levels. We ask that you respect the privacy of this patient during what is a difficult time.
[INSERT DESCRIPTION OF RELEVANT PHYSICAL SAFETY STEPS BEING TAKEN BY THE INSTITUTION – E.G., DESCRIBE ONGOING AND ADDITIONAL CLEANING PROTOCOLS, PHYSICAL DISTANCING FOR STUDENTS/EMPLOYEES (SUCH AS THROUGH STAGGERED SHIFTS, ETC.] We will continue to take steps to help protect the health and safety of our community.
We also take this opportunity to remind our community of some important information regarding COVID-19. [UPDATE AS NECESSARY BASED UPON EVOLVING CDC GUIDANCE]. In an effort to slow the spread of the virus, we are requesting your immediate attention to and compliance with the following health-authority-recommended practices – not only to ensure your own well-being but the well-being of others:
- Engage in social distancing. Do not go to work or school. Keep distance from others (about 6 feet).
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Get a flu vaccine.
- Watch for cough, troubled breathing, or other signs of respiratory infection.
- Monitor temperature for a fever above 100.4 degrees F (38 degrees C).
Those who develop a cough, fever, and difficulty breathing, should call their primary care provider or [INSERT CONTACT INFORMATION FOR ANY LOCAL HEALTH SERVICE/HOSPITAL] for further instructions. [RESOURCE – E.G., EAP, TELEHEALTH OPTIONS, COUNSELING HOTLINES] are available to support those experiencing anxiety or other mental health concerns which are so common in these times.
The CDC website (www.cdc.gov/COVID19) and [INSERT LOCAL RESOURCE SUCH AS HEALTH DEPARTMENT] contains all current recommendations for this evolving situation.
Please know that we will be monitoring daily updated guidance and information to determine appropriate action. Regarding events and other campus-based programs: we will be keeping you informed about developments occurring in order to minimize the spread of the virus. This is not a time to panic. It is, however, a time to be attentive, flexible, serious, and engaged regarding the steps we need to take as a community to care for ourselves and for one another. Please be attentive to all emails and/or [INSTITUTION] communications addressing COVID-19 and additional steps we will be taking to address this rapidly evolving situation.
What This Means for Your Campus
Schools, colleges, and universities can prepare for an inevitable decision about campus notifications by vetting draft templates and having those communications at the ready. Institutions should work with leadership, health officials, and counsel to develop appropriate messaging that conveys appropriate information in line with evolving guidance in a tone that supports your institution and community as a whole.
Anne D. Cartwright is an attorney in Husch Blackwell LLP’s Kansas City office where she provides compliance audits, policy development, investigations, customized training and general counsel services to public, private, nonprofit and proprietary educational institutions, ranging from nursing schools to national research universities and K-12 schools.