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Unreleased CDC Document on Campus Reopening

July 13, 2020
 
 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’t made public a document with information that could aid colleges and universities as they devise plans for reopening in the fall, The New York Times reported Friday.

The 69-page document, obtained by the Times and marked “For Internal Use Only,” was intended for federal public health response teams as they are deployed to hot spots around the country.

The revelation comes amid tensions between the White House and the CDC over how stringent the health-care agency’s guidelines should be for schools and colleges. The CDC issued a number of guidelines in May after, according to The Washington Post, the White House initially shelved them as being “too specific.”

Last week President Trump, who is pushing to reopen schools, blasted the guidelines as too expensive and hard to implement. Vice President Mike Pence announced the CDC this week will be adding to its guidelines for schools to support the administration’s goal of getting students back to school. A Pence spokeswoman said he was only referring to guidelines for K-12 schools, not higher education.

Meanwhile, associations representing colleges and universities have complained about not getting clearer guidelines from the CDC.

Terry Hartle, the American Council on Education’s senior vice president for government and public affairs, told the Times about the unreleased document, “What it tells us is left to its own devices, the CDC can do a pretty good job in compiling a comprehensive document that shows the complexity of what institutions are facing.”

He told the newspaper, “The good news is, this is very thoughtful and complete. The bad news is, it’s never been released.”

The document reiterated the CDC’s assessment in May that, in contrast with the administration's push for schools to reopen, “the lowest risk” is for faculty members and students to engage in virtual learning options, activities and events. Carrying “more risk” would be to have small classes with students kept six feet apart. The “highest risk,” the CDC said, would be to have “full-sized in-person classes, activities and events. Students are not spaced apart, share classroom materials or supplies and mix between classes and activities.”

The document includes additional information that the CDC hasn’t released, including examples of “innovation.” The Community College of Baltimore, for example, will prop open all doors to minimize the touching of door handles. Arizona Western University has developed a “car-to-classroom” plan, which involves “no events, no gatherings, no hanging out in Game Room, student lounges or other gathering spaces.”

The document also includes a number of indicators for colleges to monitor when they reopen, including how often students are washing their hands and social distancing, and whether students and staff are increasing their use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs.

It also provides additional resources that could help college administrators, including a self-assessment calculator developed by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and Tuscany Strategy Consulting. The calculator allows colleges to assess their risk based on factors such as class size, and it measures how much different mitigation measures could help.

The document also noted that managing the spread of the coronavirus in athletic settings is “very complicated.” Among the questions that need to be considered: “Can certain sports (e.g., basketball, wrestling) ever be safe for practice or competition when very close contact is inherent to the sport and social distancing is not possible?”

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