As students at all levels across the state prepare to return to school this month via online courses, the California Department of Public Health released statewide guidance for colleges and universities to plan for the return of in-person instruction and athletics.
In light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the public health crisis it poses, both the University of California, Merced and Stanislaus State announced in May that a majority of fall instruction would take place online. The guidance is intended to help institutions and their communities plan and prepare to resume in-person instruction when appropriate based on local conditions.
“As colleges and other institutions of higher education plan to resume in-person instruction, it’s critical that campuses make modifications to reduce risk," said Dr. Erica Pan, State Epidemiologist. "This guidance aims to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 among our students, families, and the communities where they study.”
A phased reopening of higher education institutions will depend on local conditions including epidemiologic trends, community testing resources and adequate preparedness and public health capacity to respond to case and outbreak investigations.
The guidance identifies areas that institutions must address as they consider resumption of in-person instruction. This includes:
- Complying with guidance on the use of face coverings.
- Establishing a campus-specific COVID-19 prevention plan.
- Implementing distancing on campus. Space seating/desks at least six feet apart.
- For counties on the County Data Monitoring list for three consecutive days, indoor lectures are currently prohibited. Courses offered in specialized indoor settings (e.g., labs, studio arts), whose design imposes substantial physical distancing on participants based on the nature of work performed in the space, are permitted.
- Limit nonessential visitors and campus activities.
- Closing nonessential shared spaces, such as game rooms and lounges.
- Providing grab-and-go meal options or serve individually plated meals.
- Prioritizing single room occupancy for housing, except for family housing.
- Training faculty, staff and students on COVID-19 prevention.
- Encouraging telework for as many faculty and staff as possible, especially workers at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
- When a student, faculty or staff member tests positive for COVID-19 and has exposed others, the institution must conduct initial assessments then consult with local public health officials to determine potential follow-up actions needed including potential total or partial closure and other measures to protect the community.
The guidance also outlines conditions under which collegiate athletics may return. This includes:
- Teams must require masks for coaches, staff, media and any players not engaged in play at each match.
- Practice may resume, only if regular periodic COVID-19 testing of athletes and support staff must be established and implemented by the IHE. Isolation and quarantine will be required upon a positive test.
- Teams must follow the college athletic association (e.g., NCAA), conference-specific, and institutions of higher education-specific “return to play” safety plans.
- Competition between teams without spectators can begin only if:
- The institution can provide COVID-19 testing and results within 72 hours of competition in high contact risk sports.
- Athletics departments should consider how to share testing results and related safety assurances to opposing teams before the start of an event in a manner consistent with applicable health information and education privacy laws.
- In conjunction with local public health officials and contact tracers, schools must in place a mechanism for notifying other schools should an athlete from one team test positive within 48 hours after competition with another team.
The State announced it will actively monitor decisions by institutions and the NCAA regarding protections to preserve eligibility through medical redshirts for players who exercise their right under the guidelines to opt-out for the season.
“California will consider further action if the NCAA or other sport institutions fail to meet these requirements and prioritize their economic interests over the health and well-being of players – and their families,” said Governor Gavin Newsom.
The institutions of higher education guidance is available at: https://files.covid19.ca.gov/pdf/guidance-higher-education--en.pdf
In Stanislaus County, the number of positive COVID-19 cases continues to increase.
As of Friday, there were 9,566 positive cases and 8,823 recovered cases, with 161 deaths.
The Stanislaus County Department of Public Health said that due to the continuation of issues with the State’s electronic laboratory reporting system, the COVID-19 figures represent an underreporting of actual positive cases.
The County is also reporting that hospitalization is on the rise.
As of Wednesday, there were 164 patients with COVID-19 hospitalized with 59 in Intensive Care Units.
“The ICU capacity remains critically low at 3.9 percent, which means only four ICU beds are currently available to those who may require a life-saving treatment,” said Kamlesh Kaur, a health educator with Stanislaus County Public Health.