As the global outbreak of the new coronavirus continues, higher education and health groups have developed guides to help stem the spread of the potentially deadly respiratory disease it causes, COVID-19.
Recommendations include putting together a planning committee that would lead colleges’ response in the event their campus is affected, and considering whether foreign exchange programs should be canceled.
These organizations stress that as new cases continue to crop up, now is the ideal planning window for postsecondary institutions.
As of Thursday afternoon, there were more than 200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 11 related deaths in the U.S., according to data tracked by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, officials have identified nearly 100,000 cases, mostly concentrated in China, where the outbreak began in late 2019.
U.S. institutions have faced limited interruptions so far. While closures haven’t been widespread, some colleges have shut down study abroad programs or satellite campuses in affected areas.
The CDC is asking colleges to consider postponing or outright canceling foreign exchange programs, either by limiting travel to other countries or requesting that students return home. The federal agency released general guidance as well, calling for strong emergency communication plans within communities that may experience an outbreak.
The popular March Madness college basketball tournament, which attracts tens of thousands of fans, has also been discussed. This week the NCAA convened an advisory panel to guide its response to the outbreak, and officials have said they would consider holding games without attendees.
The American College Health Association (ACHA) this week published a set of guidelines to help colleges prepare for COVID-19. The first step, ACHA suggests, is to establish a committee that would lead the institutions’ response to an outbreak in their community.
That group should encompass several key campus health officials as well as representatives from the information technology, communications, finance and supply management teams, the organization notes. A member of the campus’s student health advisory committee should also be included.
College health staff members, both clinicians and others, should receive training in respiratory and hand hygiene. Clinical staff should also know how to use personal protective equipment and N95 respirator masks.
Health centers should be ready to accommodate and isolate infected patients, and staff should know how to evaluate potential COVID-19 patients, ACHA states.
Business operations could be affected as well. Universities need to consider the costs of stockpiling resources such as medical and food supplies, ACHA recommends, as well as how to plan for a potential campus closure as a result of the virus.
Institutions may also increase their reliance on digital tools in order to continue instruction in the event of a shutdown. The Online Learning Consortium suggests colleges take advantage of their learning management system and make sure it can handle a potential influx of users.
Technology support services will also be key during this time, OLC notes.
However, college officials should be aware that not all students have sufficient internet access off campus, and that some faculty members may not be familiar with online learning tools, sources told Education Dive.