Returning to Campus Safely in the Fall

by | Jun 8, 2020

students returning to campus

While schools construct their plans for returning to campus in the fall, some are going fully remote while others are identifying action plans for a modified return to campus. Every aspect of life on campus will need creative solutions to make them safe for students, staff and faculty. 

Optimizing classrooms

Classrooms will require design changes or lower capacity. This could mean adding more sections for classes, or taking a hybrid approach where only half the students meet on a given day. Maintenance teams will need to take extra care to sanitize shared spaces in the classrooms. If possible, using a particular classroom every other day will allow time for any contaminated surfaces to become safe. Solutions should be simple and make it easy for students to follow guidelines. For instance, leaving desks spaced out or setting up walking lanes throughout campus.

Mask requirements when returning to campus

The CDC highly suggests wearing cloth face coverings, and this will be the case for a while. The use of masks is one of the biggest interventions to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. Wearing a mask protects both the individual and those they come in contact with. Schools should provide masks for students who don’t have one. Enforcement of mask guidelines are helpful over an honor system approach, especially given the weight of the risks. Coming into contact with others when returning to campus is inevitable. So, wearing a mask and distancing six feet are both mandatory. 

Common spaces

Common buildings can be unsanitary, such as dorms. Illness spreads rapidly when living in close quarters and sharing restrooms/other spaces. Single rooms reduce a lot of that risk, though shared bathrooms could still be a problem. Unique precautions will need to be taken in dining halls and rec centers, which are like breeding grounds for the virus. Disposable silverware and dishes over reusable eliminates some risk. A lot of gyms are spacing out exercise equipment and creating new deep-cleaning regimens.

Emotional wellness support for students returning to campus

Lastly, college wellness departments should plan to offer resources for the emotional implications of distancing. The wellness department should be clearly communicating counseling services that students can take advantage of on campus. Alternatively, online counseling resources are great. Coping with the pandemic has been tough for most, especially with no end in sight. This can leave students feeling down and like they’re missing out on their college experience. 

School community and pride

If there’s any time to instill a strong sense of school pride in the community, it’s now. Host virtual events to foster togetherness. Use social media campaigns (going live, story takeovers, contests) to get students involved. Social media can make students still feel like they’re connected with one another when they might be distanced in real life. Encouraging students to share photos showing their school pride will provide good user-generated content for the school and remind other students they aren’t in it alone.

As far as monitoring students, it will be near impossible to make sure they’re following guidelines as they populate parties and gatherings. As a wellness department, the best you can do is educate them and equip them, so they know the importance of being safe and how to do so. For any building on campus or aspect of college life, clearly communicate the precautions being taken to both students and parents. Being transparent about this will put students and their families at ease and make the return easier.

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