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CDC Update: Campuses with Vaccinated Populations Can Fully Reopen

girl taking mask off

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its COVID-19 guidance for institutions of higher education. At the heart of the changes: "IHEs where all students, faculty, and staff are fully vaccinated prior to the start of the semester can return to full capacity in-person learning, without requiring or recommending masking or physical distancing for people who are fully vaccinated." Fully vaccinated people also do not need to undergo routine COVID-19 testing.

General public health considerations, such as encouraging hand washing, cleaning/disinfection, respiratory etiquette (covering coughs and sneezes), symptom screening and contact tracing, still apply. And institutions with fully vaccinated populations still need to consider strategies and accommodations for protecting individuals who may not be vaccinated (e.g., campus visitors or community members with special medical conditions).

For institutions where the campus population is not fully vaccinated, the CDC recommended a number of strategies for slowing the spread of COVID-19:

  • Offering and promoting vaccination;
  • Consistent and correct use of masks;
  • Physical distancing;
  • Handwashing and respiratory etiquette;
  • Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine;
  • COVID-19 testing;
  • Maintaining healthy environments (increased ventilation and cleaning); and
  • Maintaining healthy operations (communications, supportive workplace policies and health equity).

The guidance emphasized institutions' critical role in offering and promoting vaccination to their populations. "IHEs can help increase vaccine uptake among students, faculty, and staff by providing information about and offering COVID-19 vaccination, promoting vaccine trust and confidence, and establishing supportive policies and practices that make getting vaccinated as easy and convenient as possible," the CDC noted. Some of its recommendations included:

  • Provide on-site vaccination either on campus or through local partnerships.
  • Consider hosting a mass vaccination clinic.
  • Connect with your local or state health department or health system for assistance.
  • Use trusted messengers to promote vaccination, including current and former students.
  • Consider offering multiple vaccination locations and times, to accommodate academic and work schedules.
  • Facilitate access to off-site vaccination services in the community (e.g., help students identify nearby vaccination locations and offer free transportation).
  • Offer flexible, supportive sick leave options for staff with side effects after vaccination.
  • Offer flexible excused absence options for students receiving vaccination and those with side effects after vaccination.
  • Develop educational messaging on vaccination and consider utilizing student leaders and athletes as spokespersons.
  • Ask student and other organizations to help build confidence in COVID-19 vaccines and promote the benefits of getting vaccinated.
  • Ask students, faculty and staff to promote vaccination efforts in their social groups and their communities.

The full list of guidelines is available on the CDC site. A complementary handbook to the CDC guidance, "ED COVID-19 Handbook Volume 3: Strategies for Safe Operation and Addressing the Impact of COVID-19 on Higher Education Students, Faculty, and Staff," is available from the Department of Education.

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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