Academia as a whole swiftly responded to the pandemic, closing physical campuses and transitioning to remote operations and educational instruction. As some state restrictions are lifting and the prospect of resuming an altered state of operations materializes, what are strategic next steps for higher education?
Consider these strategies for resuming operations to preserve the health and wellness of faculty, staff, and students.
Develop an Integrated Task Force for Next Steps
The purpose of the task force is to address and manage an eventual return to appropriate campus operations and mission continuity. Include various senior leadership in executive, operational and academic operational areas and solicit input from faculty and staff, including unions. The task force should meet and communicate daily at a minimum. Operating as a command center, the task force should evaluate each university operation in light of the state and local public health departments’ guidance, focusing on two key efforts:
- Develop a formal written Infectious Disease Preparedness & Response Plan
- Develop a good working relationship with public health authorities with jurisdiction to obtain consistent and accurate information to make the most informed decisions related to reopening. Clients have expressed their leading source of frustration as inconsistent and frequently changing pandemic data and state directives.
Engage with Industry Peer Organizations for Best Practices and Programs
Time and resources are both limited and logistically stressed during this pandemic. Other than the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Administrators of U.S. Institutions of Higher Education, there are no additional federal COVID-19 publications available to date specifically for higher education. Engaging with industry peers can ease this burden and avoid “reinventing the wheel” for best practices and programs. Clients reported benefitting immensely from these pandemic resources and connecting with peers through organizations such as University Risk Management and Insurance Association (URMIA) and Campus Safety, Health & Environmental Management Association (CSHEMA).
Formulate Detailed, Flexible Scenario Reopening Plans
Consider a broad range of operational scenarios that may be dictated by local or state public health departments. Scenario plans, ranging from fully remote operations to complete campus re-immersion, should include both short-term and long-term strategies, including plans for repopulation of the campus, monitoring health conditions, containment and additional shutdown(s), if necessary. Clients have shared that creating a continuum of phased reopening scenario plans have enabled them to quickly adapt and respond more effectively to new state directives.
Determine Campus “Gateway” Reopening Prerequisites
Organizations should consider state guideline prerequisites when developing scalable health monitoring and virus containment scenario plans. These could range from establishing target numbers for community sustained infections and non-increasing new hospitalizations and infection rates to sufficient physical space(s) allocated for proper isolation and quarantine of confirmed infected students on campus.
Refer to Other State and/or Peer Guidelines in Moving Forward
Additional state post-secondary guidelines are being developed. Clients have found the state guideline documents, along with national peer organizations’ resources, very valuable in developing and customizing their reopening plans.