By Tara Gibson - October 12, 2020
As many higher education institutions from across the United States made the decision to bring students back to campuses amid the coronavirus pandemic, administrators have debated how best to deter a young and impulsive student population from further spread of the virus. While colleges and universities reconfigured dorm rooms, cafeterias, and other campus facilities to adhere to strict social distancing policies, some students continued to violate these rules, hosting or attending large gatherings, potentially putting their peers and campus communities at risk.
The New York Times has been tracking the number of coronavirus cases in colleges and universities across the country, conducting a survey of more than 1,600 higher education institutions that found at least 130,000 cases and at least 70 deaths linked to U.S. higher education institutions since the pandemic began. Many of these cases were reported following students return to campuses for the fall semester.
Below, find this chart from the New York Times:
The survey also found that more than 35 colleges have reported at least 1,000 cases over the course of the pandemic, and more that 230 colleges have reported more than 100 cases. Around the country, the metro areas with the most cases per capita - including regions of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida - have recorded sizable outbreaks at universities. Unfortunately, many college campuses have become coronavirus hot spots, potentially endangering surrounding communities in addition to putting students, faculties, and staff at risk.
Many institutions have learned quickly from outbreaks on their own campuses, or those on campuses of near-by schools, that occured after administrators underestimated how many students participate in large gatherings and parties despite COVID-19.
Those colleges or universities who were impacted severely have implemented new practices such as twice-weekly testing, quarantine mandates, and stricter social distancing protocols. Some institutions have hired students as public health ambassadors to encourage peers to social-distance and wear masks. Others are leveraging mass notification solutions to encourage students and staff to report violations and do so anonymously.
For colleges and universities who have successfully returned to campus and protected their campus communities, strict social distancing and good mask hygiene protocols have been paramount. Some schools have leveraged their mass notification solutions to reach their students and communicate the appropriate sanitation procedures, such as mask mandates or frequent hand-washing, as well as available COVID testing locations and disciplinary actions that may be taken if students do not comply with social distancing.
Watch this short video about keeping your campus community safe and informed:
It's essential that students fully understand their college or university’s standpoint on COVID-19, as they vary from school to school across different states in the U.S. If an institution does not proactively communicate these rules, it will be more difficult to penalize students who don't comply.
Many colleges or universities have required students to sign a code of conduct and have put severe penalties in place for students who don’t comply with newly enforced coronavirus rules, while others have been more lenient by adopting existing honor codes that urge students to note personal responsibility and peer accountability, according to Duffy Law. There's also a middle ground between severe and lenient policies; some schools have simply chosen to prohibit students from having overnight guests in dorm rooms or gathering at parties, and are instituting less stringent disciplinary measures for those who fail to abide social distancing or mask requirements.
Since each higher education institution's plans and procedures will be unique, schools are encouraged to proactively make their policy accessible to all students and staff. With a comprehensive mass communication solution, users can easily send out reminders and messaging about relevant COVID-19 policies to targeted contact lists. For colleges and universities with multiple locations, this can be extremely useful, as the COVID-19 risks may not be urgent on one campus, while another could be located in a virus hotspot.
The anonymous tip-to-text feature which within a campus safety application can also improve COVID-19 situational awareness. Many higher education institutions have implemented their own custom-branded mobile safety apps which offer two-way communication for students to contact campus safety officials directly and anonymously. While students might find it "awkward" to report these violations in person, the app provides an easy and discrete medium to do so.
If students, whether they're public health ambassadors or otherwise, have the ability to provide campus security officials with social distancing violations, the college or university can address the situation in a timely manner, heading off a potential outbreak. The anonymity will prove especially vital; students may not want to come forward with a social distancing report due to fear of retribution or ostracization. The two-way communications provides additional value as well - students can also utilize two-way communications to ask any COVID related questions or share additional campus concerns.
A campus safety app can serve as a go-to destination for students with coronavirus related questions or concerns - the tool also store in-depth COVID-19 policies, procedures, and contacts within the resource center, allowing students, faculty, or staff access to this information at all times. The combined communication power of a campus safety app and mass notification can play an important role in boosting situational awareness around the coronavirus and protecting students, faculty and staff from unecessary risk.
Tara is a Marketing Coordinator on the Rave Mobile Safety marketing team. She loves writing about all things K-12, State & Local, Higher Ed, Corporate, and Healthcare, and manages the Rave social media channels. When she's not working, she's taking care of her smiley, shoe eating, Instagram-famous fur baby, Enzo!
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