Here’s How Colleges Are Planning to Reopen Amid COVID-19 Threat

For many campuses, a fall reopening is contingent on coronavirus testing availability and the capacity to socially distance students.

Here’s How Colleges Are Planning to Reopen Amid COVID-19 Threat

In a New York Times op-ed, Brown President Christina Paxson said college campuses must develop public health plans that focus on the spread of infection through “test, trace and separate.”

“These plans must be based on the reality that there will be upticks or resurgences in infection until a vaccine is developed, even after we succeed in flattening the curve. We can’t simply send students home and shift to remote learning every time this happens,” she wrote. “Colleges and universities must be able to safely handle the possibility of infection on campus while maintaining the continuity of their core academic functions.”

In order for any University of California campuses to reopen, President Napolitano said testing and contact tracing programs will be required.

“They will all have to meet minimum safety standards to reopen,” she said on CNBC’s “The Exchange.” “If they’re going to reopen at all, they’re going to need to have a testing plan, a contact tracing plan, a quarantine plan, things of that sort.”

Similarly, University of Arizona officials said the campus will follow the plan of “test, trace, and treat” by providing frequent diagnostic and antibody testing. The campus will also quarantine sick students in single-occupancy dorms for two weeks and track down others they came in contact with.

Northern Arizona University President Rita Cheng said the school plans to adopt “state-of-the-art testing and contact tracing” as well as isolation when needed.

What Phase 1 Will Look Like for Some Campuses

For many campuses, the first phase of reopening involves the return of employees or researchers who cannot do their work remotely.

In Phase 1 of its three-phase return, which is slated to begin May 11, the University of Tennessee (UT) will incrementally increase staffing to gradually increase operations, according to WBIR. Priority employees will include positions needed for campus safety or that are critical to ongoing operations. The majority of UT employees will continue to work remotely during this phase.

All returning employees are being told to plan for social distancing, temperature checks and screenings. They will be provided with face coverings and additional PPE for employees who need it, according to school officials.

Oklahoma State University (OSU) announced its plan to begin a phased reopening for employees starting June 1, which will include staggered department schedules for in-office work.

“To be clear, this phased reopening plan depends greatly on the ongoing decline of COVID-19 cases in the Stillwater and surrounding areas,” OSU officials emphasized in the Friday announcement. “We will continue to seek guidance from health officials and will keep you updated on all return-to-campus plans.”

Louisiana State University (LSU) Interim President Tom Galligan said he hopes the campus’ phased approach will begin on May 15. Due to Governor John Bel Edwards relaxing some restrictions, the school is able to allow research initiatives to continue or restart. Galligan said this will bring some faculty and staff back to campus as soon as possible, reports the LSU Reveille.

LSU administrators are also considering other options to make the return to campus as safe as possible, including delaying the semester start date, starting classes remotely and later transitioning to in-person classes, and offering larger classes in online formats.

While there is no way of knowing what the coming months will bring or what is the “best” approach to reopening college campuses, it seems the consensus is to be flexible and have contingency plans.

Interested in knowing how colleges in your state are planning on reopening? The Chronicle of Higher Education is tracking individual schools’ plans here.

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About the Author


Amy is Campus Safety’s Executive Editor. Prior to joining the editorial team in 2017, she worked in both events and digital marketing.

Amy has many close relatives and friends who are teachers, motivating her to learn and share as much as she can about campus security. She has a minor in education and has worked with children in several capacities, further deepening her passion for keeping students safe.

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