The CDC releases guidance for reopening universities, colleges during the pandemic

(Kaylie McLaughlin | Collegian Media Group)

Decreasing on-campus housing capacity and instituting face covering guidance are a few of the actions the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends for universities planning to reopen or start reopening campuses.

While in-person operations are limited until July 31, Kansas State plans to “reawaken” the university in some way when fall classes begin in August.

With Gov. Laura Kelly’s order to progress to the second phase of the Kansas reopening protocol, K-State also moved into the next phase. In this phase, gatherings of more than 15 people are strictly prohibited and working from home when possible is still highly recommended.

Even with the progress forward, some types of social distancing and other public health measures will be necessary until a treatment or vaccine becomes widely available, associate vice president for risk and compliance Elliot Young said previously.

What exactly that means for the fall semester is unclear — based off of ongoing trials and studies, health officials have indicated the earliest a vaccine could be ready is by the end of 2020 or early 2021.

It’s likely, Provost Charles Taber said previously, that the fall semester will have some kind of in-person and online hybrid setup.

“I don’t think I’m going out on a limb at all in saying that,” Taber said. “Our intention is to be back for face to face classes. And … that’s what I expect to be the case.”

Determining which courses and which parts of the “educational mission really need to be done face-to-face” or those that can be done in a more flexible setup are still being determined, Taber said.

But even that limited scope of face-to-face operations presents an elevated risk, per the new CDC guidance. The lowest risk option would be to “engage in virtual-only learning options, activities and events.”

When on-campus and in public, face coverings should be worn. The CDC urges administrators to inform students and faculty the proper way to wear, remove and clean masks.

“Cloth face coverings are meant to protect other people in case the wearer is unknowingly infected but does not have symptoms,” the guidelines read.

Adding on-campus housing to the mix complicates matters, CDC guidelines show. If dorms are open, there will need to be strict limitations on access to shared spaces like floor kitchens. Buffet style dining halls are discouraged.

There would also need to be some kind of measures in place to isolate students who test positive or have been exposed to someone that has. The protocol for protecting an individual’s academic standing if they become ill won’t change, Taber said in an email.

“We do all we can to keep students safe,” he said. “We always strive to do our best to help students succeed academically even if they are dealing with illness. Because we do not anticipate a widespread problem (and are doing all we can to prevent such an outbreak), no new formal policy proposals are being considered at this time to protect the academic standing of students.”

While nothing is “set in stone,” Taber said, the university will continue to be guided by the principles it established for this “unprecedented health crisis.”

Despite all the uncertainty, one thing hasn’t changed, Young said.

“From the very beginning of this whole crisis, the number one principle that we’ve been operating under is that the health and safety of the community is the most important thing,” Young said.

My name is Kaylie McLaughlin and I'm the ex-managing editor and audience engagement manager of the Collegian. Previously, I've been the editor-in-chief and the news editor. In the past, I have also contributed to the Royal Purple Yearbook and KKSU-TV. Off-campus, you can find my bylines in the Wichita Eagle, the Shawnee Mission Post and KSNT News. I grew up just outside of Kansas City in Shawnee, Kansas. I’m a senior in digital journalism with a minor in French and a secondary focus in international and area studies. As a third-generation K-Stater, I bleed purple and my goal is to serve the Wildcat community with accurate coverage.