The Utah System of Higher Education COVID-19 Higher Education Task Force has released a plan outlining a path for Utah public colleges and universities to resume onsite operations for the fall 2020 semester amid COVID-19 uncertainty.
Utah colleges and universities have been largely operating remotely since the mid-March transition to online instruction. On-campus activity was significantly reduced, and Utah colleges and universities canceled or postponed end of year activities and events as part of their efforts to keep their campus communities as safe as possible.
In collaboration with state and local leaders, public health departments, and education experts, the Utah System of Higher Education developed a set of “gating conditions” to define a path allowing colleges and universities to bring students back to campus in person and resume many campus operations for the fall 2020 semester.
“Though we can’t fully predict what the fall will look like, we feel we are on a trajectory to welcome our students back to campus while taking necessary precautions,” said Dave R. Woolstenhulme, interim commissioner of higher education. “We have worked, and will continue to work, to be as adaptable in our plans as possible as we receive updated recommendations from state and federal leaders to ensure a safe environment for our students, faculty, staff, and broader communities.”
USHE proposes the following gating conditions as part of its guidelines for the fall 2020 semester:
- Disease prevalence: The prevalence of the disease must be low enough to safely resume campus operations. For nonresidential campuses, as well as science labs, libraries, and many graduate programs, the gating criteria for business and commercial operations should apply. For residential undergraduate programs, public health officials recommend a sustained low and non-increasing rate of new hospitalizations in the state and in the local health districts surrounding each college.
- Diagnostic testing supplies: Higher education leaders must work with state leaders to ensure that colleges and universities have adequate supplies of diagnostic tests and adequate financial support to obtain, administer, and process them. Nonresidential institutions should be able to test symptomatic students, faculty and staff. Residential institutions should also be able to test students upon arrival and at appropriate intervals thereafter in accordance with prevailing public health guidance.
- Contact tracing: Higher education leaders must obtain adequate resources and capacity for contact tracing to supplement local public health departments with on-campus efforts.
- Higher education-specific health guidelines: Colleges and universities should follow Utah’s specific public health guidelines for colleges and universities, including face coverings, physical distancing, and population densities of residence halls, dining facilities, and classrooms.
- Adequate PPE supplies: Adequate supplies of personal protective equipment and face coverings must be available to public colleges and universities.
- Health care surge capacity: Adequate surge capacity must be available in nearby health care facilities and hospitals.
- Liability protection: Utah has adopted an appropriate “safe harbor” from liability for those institutions that bring students back to campus and take reasonable steps to comply with state guidelines and complete the planning efforts outlined in this report.
- Institution plan: Incorporating the guidance provided by the Utah Leads Together plan and state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance specific to higher education, each institution must develop a plan for onsite operations that includes the following four elements:
- A plan for repopulating the campus (likely a phased process).
- A plan for active monitoring of health conditions to ensure the detection of infection.
- A plan for containing and preventing the spread of the disease if detected.
- A plan for shutting down operations in the event it becomes necessary, either because of a serious outbreak on campus or statewide orders from the governor.
Because of the diversity of each college and university in Utah, higher education leaders determined a “one-size-fits-all” approach was not feasible. For this reason, Utah public colleges and universities, utilizing guidance from the system, will be releasing their individualized fall semester plans over the coming days.