What could college look like in the fall? The CDC weighs in

a man works at a computer in a room full of screens
An Emergency Operations Center staffer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention responds to the coronavirus pandemic. CDC guidelines will influence a potential campus reopening this fall. (James Gathany/CDC)

As colleges across the country start to make definitive plans for the fall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released guidelines that could drastically change campus life to help limit and slow the spread of coronavirus.

Although it’s still unclear whether 5C students will return to campus next semester, LA County is potentially days away from allowing colleges and universities to reopen.

The CDC guidelines — which are recommendations, not requirements — categorize aspects of campus life in three tiers of risk: Lowest, More and Highest. Residential life, dining hall experiences and classroom settings would see changes depending on which recommendations the 5Cs choose to follow.

Lowest Risk

To operate under the lowest risk of spreading COVID-19, the CDC recommends all classes, activities and events be held virtually, meaning residence halls would likely remain closed as well. If the 5Cs opted for this level of precaution, the fall semester at the Claremont Colleges would likely be entirely online. 

More Risk

If the 5Cs choose to bring students back to campus in the fall, the risk of spreading COVID-19 increases. Thus, the CDC suggests teaching hybrid in-person and online classes and capping residence halls at lower capacity.

Under the guidelines, students would be seated six feet apart, which might require the colleges to use larger classrooms. The CDC advises taping off alternate seats in lecture halls to ensure students maintain adequate distance between each other.

The guidelines suggest adding flexible plastic screens between bathroom sinks and beds in close quarters, where they cannot be spaced six feet apart. This may see an end to triple-sharing rooms, which are typically assigned to first-year students. 

Harvey Mudd College and Claremont McKenna College have already announced that they won’t place students in triples next year, according to a previous TSL report and CMC spokesperson Gilien Silsby.

The CDC says the number of people in a laundry room or bathroom at a time should also be restricted while common spaces such as lounges and game rooms should be kept closed altogether.

Following the recommendations, group meals at dining halls may no longer be feasible. The guidelines suggest grab-and-go meal options should be available at all dining halls to avoid large clusters of people in one space, and say buffet-style servings should be replaced by individually plated meals to avoid sharing common utensils. The CDC advises students avoid sharing utensils, materials and food as much as possible. 

Sporting events and activities should be convened in a manner that reduces the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to players, coaches and spectators, although the CDC does not specify how this might be done. 

The guidelines also suggest students, faculty and staff limit all non-essential travel, but it’s not clear what this means for sports teams that frequently travel to other college campuses.

The CDC says to limit non-essential visitors to campus, especially if those individuals are not from the local geographical area. Events and activities hosted by the colleges should be held virtually where possible. 

Faculty are encouraged to be flexible with office hours and workload so that students can take care of themselves if they fall ill.

Highest Risk

Colleges will be at the highest risk of spreading COVID-19 on its campus if full-sized, in-person classes resume and residence halls operate at full capacity with no social distancing. 

This is an unlikely choice for the 5Cs to make, especially since they’ve already begun taking measures aiming to mitigate exposure. Mudd and CMC have contracted off-campus housing to reduce the density in residence halls — which, for CMC, may be used as quarantine sites if students fall ill, Vice President of Student Affairs Sharon Basso told Fox 11 last month. 

How to prepare for possible infections on campus

The CDC recommends designating an administrator or office to handle COVID-19 concerns specifically, and says students and faculty must know who this individual is and how to contact them. 

Colleges must also designate a particular room, section or floor in each residence hall for students to self-isolate if they contract COVID-19 or show symptoms. 

In the case that a student or faculty member does get sick, the CDC says, they must notify administrators immediately. Students who are sick or have symptoms must eat all their meals in their room and not enter dining facilities at all. 

The guidelines also advise implementing flexible sick leave and excused absence policies so students, faculty and staff can self-isolate if they are sick or have been exposed to someone who is.

Hygiene regulations

The CDC recommends strict hygiene and safety measures be followed. Common spaces should be routinely cleaned and disinfected, and daily health checks for temperature and symptoms may be necessary.

Proper, routine hand-washing is encouraged, and colleges will need to provide adequate soap, hand sanitizer and paper towels. Face coverings, the CDC says, “should be worn as feasible and are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult.”

Clearance to open

Like many municipalities, the LA County public health department has created its own Roadmap to Recovery, a five-step risk hierarchy that dictates when amenities should reopen. Essential health care and low-risk businesses are categorized as stage two and were allowed to reopen May 8. 

Colleges and universities are allowed to reopen in stage three, alongside grade schools, movie theaters, bars and nightclubs. Stage four would see a reopening of sporting events and large conventions, while stage five is a normal resumption of all operations. 

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