With the start of the fall semester just weeks away, universities across the country are preparing to reopen their campuses. For many, it will be the first time since the crisis began in March.
It goes without saying that the 2020-21 academic year will be unlike any other. While some schools have elected to operate entirely online, many are returning to in-person classes, or using a hybrid of online and offline courses.
A comprehensive testing strategy is necessary for keeping schools, students, and staff safe, but a number of factors could contribute to a system-wide failure. Here are a few limitations to be mindful of as you head back to campus:
The demand for COVID-19 testing is rapidly outpacing supply. For Universities operating in-person, these shortages can result in longer turnaround times, especially for those outsourcing testing to third party labs. Universities would be mindful to invest in in-house supplies to mitigate the effects of the nationwide shortages as much as possible and clearly communicate any and all available on-campus testing sites to students as they return.
Lack of contact tracing
At the end of July, The New York Times reported that almost 7,000 COVID-19 cases were linked to colleges and universities across the country. Considering the academic year has yet to begin, and the United States has now surpassed 5 million coronavirus cases, it isn’t a matter of if university-related cases will increase, but when? By how much?
To mitigate the spread of coronavirus on campus, higher educational institutions will require a comprehensive contact tracing strategy to map the spread of the virus amongst students, faculty, and staff - particularly those already experiencing outbreaks. By establishing a baseline and identifying who is coming into campus with the virus, the university can then surveil the rest of the population to monitor any spread. While we can’t eliminate risk for those returning to campus, it is our responsibility to contain it as much as possible.
Enforcing of social distancing procedures
A lack of adherence to social distancing protocols is the primary cause of the current university outbreaks. Many have been linked to off-campus parties, with some universities going as far as to ban them outright as a precaution. Enforcing social distancing procedures, especially within enclosed spaces like classrooms and lecture halls, will be key to limiting the virus. Of course, anyone on campus should also wear a face mask or covering.
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