LA County Department of Public Health releases draft guidelines for reopening of institutions of higher education

LA County has released draft guidelines — pending guidance from the state of California — for the reopening of institutions of higher education. (Courtesy: GoToVan via Wikimedia Commons)

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health released draft guidelines for the reopening of institutions of higher education, in a call with colleges and universities Wednesday. 

However, under current state guidelines issued in March, institutions of higher education in LA county are not yet permitted to open. The California Department of Public Health has yet to issue guidance for the reopening of colleges and universities, so the July 29 LADPH guidelines are subject to change, depending on guidance from the state.

LAPDH guidelines show a path to in-person instruction

The LADPH guidelines are a draft version and may only be finalized once the state of California has issued reopening guidance for institutions of higher education. They are a “staged approach, supported by science and public health expertise, to allow Institutes of Higher Education (IHE) to reopen.”

However, the LADPH also cited “recent increases in COVID-19 cases, test positivity rate, and hospitalizations” as reason for institutions of higher education to have plans for remote learning in place, in case they are unable to reopen campus. Last week, California surpassed New York to become the U.S. state with the most coronavirus cases — totaling more than 488,000 cases as of July 30.

In addition to guidelines specifically meant for institutions of higher education, colleges and universities may also have to follow guidance for retail stores, gyms, restaurants, offices and places of worship. Protocols for collegiate sports are currently under development.

Furthermore, “on-campus events remain prohibited with the exception of events related to constitutionally protected freedoms such as public protests and in-person faith-based services conducted by places of worship.”

The LADPH checklist identifies five critical areas to be covered by the reopening plans of institutions of higher education: workplace policies and practices to protect employee health, measures to ensure physical distancing, measures to ensure infection control, communication with employees and the public, and measures to ensure equitable access to critical services.

Colleges and universities must have a COVID-19 Containment, Response and Control Plan to prevent and contain the spread of coronavirus. That includes a COVID-19 Compliance Task Force for establishing and enforcing safety protocols, as well as a COVID-19 Compliance Officer who will act as a direct liaison to the LADPH in the case of an outbreak.

Harvey Mudd, only 5C planning to bring students back to campus, awaits state guidelines

Pomona College, Scripps College, Pitzer College and Claremont McKenna College decided earlier this month to go completely online for the fall semester.

This leaves Harvey Mudd College as the only undergraduate Claremont College planning to bring students back to campus in the fall, pending official approval. 

HMC is awaiting further guidance from the state on whether the college will be permitted to hold classes in person, according to a FAQ on its website. The college hopes that “the state will release its guidance in the coming days.”

HMC has not set a deadline for a decision to move online by a certain date, if state guidelines have not yet been received. CMC set a deadline for county approval of July 24, and moved online the same day.

“In planning for the fall semester, Harvey Mudd College decided to proactively develop guidelines that we believed would allow us to open for in-person instruction once the state rescinds its original higher education closure,” the FAQ reads.

Governor Newsom’s office did not give an exact date for when state guidelines will be released when contacted multiple times by TSL. 

Once the state issues guidance for institutions of higher education, HMC will finalize plans for the fall and definitively announce whether it will be reopening for the fall, “if [it] believe[s] the college will be able to have the necessary protocols in place to meet the requirements of both the county and state.”

For now, HMC is currently reviewing the new LADPH draft protocols pertaining to institutions of higher education to ensure that its reopening plans adhere to county guidelines. 

“We appreciate your patience and we continue to adjust on a daily basis as the situation continues to evolve,” the FAQ says.

LAPDH draft guidelines present requirements colleges must meet

Institutions of higher education must have an IHE Exposure Management Plan to prepare for potential on-campus cases of COVID-19. “Immediate implementation of an EMP when a single case of COVID-19 is identified at an IHE can accelerate the ability to contain the spread of infection and prevent outbreaks from occurring on campus,” the LADPH guidelines say.

An individual is considered infectious from two days before the onset of symptoms until they are no longer required to isolate, meaning that they have had no fever for at least 24 hours without fever-reducing medicine, they have experienced improvement of other symptoms and at least 10 days have passed after initial symptoms.

An individual is defined to have been exposed to an infectious individual if within 6 feet of that individual for more than 15 minutes, even if wearing non-medical face coverings, or if they have had unprotected contact with the person’s body fluids or secretions, such as by sharing utensils. Students and employees who have been exposed must be notified by the school’s Compliance Task Force.

Those who have been exposed to an infectious individual must self-isolate and have access to testing so that the institution can “understand the extent of spread on campus to inform additional COVID-19 control measures.” Colleges and universities must provide sufficient student housing for potential isolation and quarantine needs, as well as support for students in quarantine.

If there are 3 or more COVID-19 on-campus cases that are epidemiologically linked within 14 days, colleges and universities must report the cluster to the LADPH Acute Communicable Disease Control Education Sector Team within one business day. The LADPH will work with the institution to determine if the cluster meets criteria for an outbreak.

If it is determined that the cluster is an outbreak, the LADPH Outbreak Management Branch will be activated, and “a public health case manager will be assigned to the outbreak investigation to help guide the campus response.”

Students entering the U.S. from another country must quarantine for 14 days, either before returning to campus or upon arrival to campus.

Employees will be screened before beginning the workday, while students should be screened before entering classrooms or dining halls, and participating in activities with others. Students who live on-campus must take part in daily symptom checks. If possible, temperature checks should be performed.

Screenings will check for symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and fever or chills, and may take place remotely, or in person upon arrival.

Employees are encouraged to work from home as much as possible, and virtual meetings should be held when possible. “Alternate, staggered or shift schedules” should be put in place. Employees should not be penalized for remaining home if sick. Similarly, students who are sick should not attend class or visit dining halls.

Employees and students should be provided with cloth face coverings if they are unable to obtain their own. Colleges and universities should have disinfectant and hand sanitizer available, and provide instruction about hand washing, face coverings, processes for sick individuals and access to on-campus health care services.

“At all times while on campus, employees, students and visitors to campus are instructed that they must wear cloth face coverings unless Cal/OSHA standards require respiratory protection,” according to the LADPH guidelines. “Only individuals who have been instructed not to wear a face covering by their medical provider are exempt from wearing one.”

Exceptions also include times at which individuals are alone or settings in which wearing a face covering is “impracticable,” such as when eating or brushing teeth.

Guidelines for on-campus housing mandate that there should be no more than two students per bedroom. In shared bedrooms, beds must be at least 6 feet apart. Institutions of higher education should also reduce the number of students using shared bathroom facilities as much as possible. Students are encouraged to stay in their rooms, and common areas such as kitchens and lounges should be closed to “discourage students from congregating.”

Dining halls will have limited occupancy — no more than 60 percent of maximum occupancy — in order for students and employees to maintain physical distance. Cafeterias should provide meal pick-up and staggered meal times if possible. LA County banned indoor dining on July 3.

Indoor rooms may have a maximum of 50 percent total occupancy, or 50 people, whichever is lower. Meanwhile, outdoor classrooms may have 50 percent total occupancy, or 100 people, whichever is lower. The LADPH encourages institutions of higher education to group students into cohorts of fewer than 30 “to reduce exposure of students to a large number of other students.”

Visitors will be limited to those essential for college operations, with visits scheduled by appointment only, and all visitor names, emails and phone numbers included in a visitor log. Visitors will be screened for symptoms as well.

Colleges and universities must also implement measures to ensure “equitable access to critical services” through “online or specialized in-person educational services for vulnerable students” and “access to goods and services for students and visitors who have mobility limitations and/or are at high risk in public spaces.”

Copies of these LADPH guidelines must be posted at public entrances — a QR code or link to this protocol will suffice for large institutions.

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