Considerations for Reopening Institutions of Higher Education in the COVID-19 Era
As institutions prepare to resume essential activities, the ACHA has released guidance for re-opening and resuming operations. The ACHA COVID-19 Task Force has prepared these guidelines [pdf] to help college health staff and campus administrators prepare for COVID-19 and related issues on their campuses. The guidelines are intentionally broad so that each institution, small or large, can modify them based on existing campus and local resources. Moreover, each institution should seek guidance and coordination from their local and state public health agencies.
Read the guidelines in their entirety here.
Our Key Take Aways
1. Consider Your Workforce
Institutions must not only staff their workforces to resume primary responsibilities, but also take on additional roles of reducing transmission of COVID-19. Staff must be trained, protected, and adequately prepared for situations that may arise. This will include formal training for all staff and developing a system to monitor compliance.
2. PCR Testing Will be Key to Resuming Essential Activities
While symptoms, questionnaires, and temperature checks are valuable for surveilling community health, a robust testing capability is required to identify outbreaks before they become widespread throughout your campus. Your health office must develop a plan for testing the community before arrival to your campus en masse, intermittently as surveillance testing, and in a response fashion if and when an outbreak does occur. It is essential that your organization has a pre-identified partner who is able to collect, process, and return results of tests performed on your community.
3. Mental Health Must be Addressed
Enormous efforts to establish physical distancing have resulted in both isolation and a change in routine for many persons. The emotional, social, and financial disruptions in combination with 24/7 media and fear and uncertainty surrounding this pandemic continue to take a toll on students’ well-being, leading to concerns about increasing rates of depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, suicide, and domestic violence.Many students are experiencing grief, disruption, and anxiety related to the changes. If students do not require psychotherapy, they may need an accessible, responsive venue for ongoing validation and support. Conversely, students with pre-existing depression, anxiety, and trauma are often more symptomatic during times of heightened stress and may require extra support in terms of more frequent contacts, sessions, and/or resources.