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Emergency Preparedness

CDC Issues COVID-19 Guidance to Higher Ed

doctor holding up vial labeled coronavirus

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued interim guidance for higher education administrators on how to respond to coronavirus (COVID-19). It's intended to prevent "community spread" of the virus in two ways: by telling colleges and universities how to keep students, staff and faculty safe and by providing information to academic experts who may be called upon by local health departments for help. The guidance is also intended to assist administrators in planning "for the continuity of teaching, learning and research" if COVID-19 shows up locally and to reduce the stigma attached to the illness for those who have been affected.

Since there's still no vaccine for COVID-19, the website stated, "the best way [at this point] to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus that causes it." The big advice is this: Stay in contact with the local public health department and monitor CDC's coronavirus website to get the latest information.

In those communities without identified cases of the virus, the guidance has suggested that schools "review, update and implement emergency operations plans" to cover the possible outbreaks of infectious diseases.

That includes what one would expect: emphasizing that people who are sick stay home, that individuals cover their coughs and sneezes (elbows, not hands), cleaning surfaces that are "frequently touched" and "washing hands often."

But the guidance also advised this:

  • Developing information-sharing systems with partners, using institutional data for daily reporting on key areas that could detect an outbreak, such as monitoring absenteeism patterns and changes in student health center traffic.
  • Creating plans to communicate "accurate and timely information" to the school community. Communication plans should cover how to get the word out about changes in scheduling for campus events and keeping information accurate to reduce the level of "fear and stigma."
  • Ensuring continuity of education by putting together plans for delivering instruction online using "existing infrastructure and services" (Blackboard, Skype and Zoom were especially called out for this purpose); and using online library services, print materials available online, phone- or internet-based counseling support, or virtual study groups. Among the considerations: how to "deal with the potential lack of students' access to computers and the internet at home or in temporary housing."
  • Sharing COVID-19 informational resources, especially fact sheets to help people understand what's known about the disease so far; and speaking out "against negative behaviors, including negative statements on social media about groups of people."

In places where cases of COVID-19 have surfaced, the guidance offered some additional advice: Stop face-to-face classes for a while. Even with classes suspended, however, the institution "may stay open for staff or faculty (unless ill)." By keeping the campus open but students at home, faculty can focus on developing and delivering lessons "electronically" and the staff will be there "to provide services and help with additional response efforts."

To figure out whether classes should close or events should be canceled, administrators were advised to "work in close collaboration with local health officials and the [institution's] university system." Those might need to last "for at least 14 days," possibly longer, depending on the health situation in the area.

The entire guidance is openly available on the CDC coronavirus website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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