Are college campuses safe? Will they be a breeding ground for virus transmission? Can a campus open safely and provide a healthy school environment for students and faculty?
Whatever questions or topics you may Google, the query will result in an onslaught of articles, research, and opinions without a solid consensus. The lack of reliable information makes it a real challenge to decipher facts from fiction.
So with reopening plans for colleges and universities at the forefront of back-to-school conversations, many institutions, parents, students, and faculty have the same pressing question: “Can campuses open safely and keep students healthy?” But there’s no definitive answer.
As college and university officials use their best research skills and lean on expert advice, they are evaluating ongoing research and the new guidelines that outline the best ways to prevent spread. The result is fact-based evidence that demonstrates how taking specific actions—and ensuring student adherence—will create a viable, safe, and healthy learning and social environment on college campuses this fall.
How to Create a Healthy School Environment
First and foremost, college and university administration must have a genuine commitment to mitigating risk and enforcing policies and procedures that mandate adherence to specific behaviors. Secondly, they must create the most natural-feeling experience that promotes preventative behaviors and clearly defined community expectations. Once the procedures are in place and expectations are communicated, the school must reinforce positive behavior.
More specifically, here is what colleges and universities must do to create a healthy school environment amid an ongoing pandemic.
Promote Preventative Behaviors
Rather than telling students, staff, and faculty what not to do, focus on explaining what steps should be taken. Identify the preventative behaviors that can replace potentially harmful behaviors. For instance, rather than banning working out in fitness centers, promote outdoor physical activity and offer options that can keep students moving while ensuring their health and safety.
Scheduling and creating a risk-averse flow will be a foundational aspect of changing how people act and ensuring physical distancing can occur naturally. Evaluate the classes, events, and how those on campus move. Create a schedule that eliminates areas on campus where students can congregate. Change the path of highly trafficked routes and offer other activities that can fill the gaps during times when students are likely to gather and socialize in a way that could be risky.
Define Expectations and Communicate Clearly
Create and implement defined behavioral expectations for everyone entering the campus. This means outlining student, faculty, staff, administration, and visitor behaviors. Ensure these expectations are communicated clearly in a way that leaves little to no interpretation and that everyone—no matter their learning preference—will receive and understand the information. If it’s clearly presented and frequently repeated, it’s more likely to be understood and followed.
Practice What is Preached
Leading by example is key to ensuring all of the policies and procedures are followed and enforced. Leadership and influential individuals must ‘walk the walk’ after ‘talking the talk’ and be observed by others who will follow their lead. The rules must be followed strictly from the top down if students are expected to meet expectations. This means leadership should not be exempt from any of the new guidelines. Instead, they should follow the instructions carefully and create visibility within the student population.
Also, campuses must take the proper health and safety precautions outlined by agencies such as the CDC that mitigate risk and disease spread. These precautions should also follow the same guidelines. That means everyone needs to understand the expectations. Adherence is mandatory. And there must be policies and/or technology that offer insights and tracking to provide hard evidence of compliance—and that is where we step in.
With a mobile app and interface that offers health guidelines and can track compliance, VirusSAFE EDU provides transparency and peace of mind. It assures students, staff, and parents that the campus is serious about community health and safety.