College Re-Openings: How to Make it Safer


Originally published on

COVID-19 has brought about many technological and infrastructural challenges to colleges and universities in the United States. Many colleges have decided to move to a mostly online offering in the fall.  However, many others have decided to have in-class or hybrid options. Colleges are presented with students who are generally younger, engaged in more risky behavior, and are not as prone to the severe consequences of the virus. On the other hand, professors and staff tend to be older and more prone to the severe consequences of the virus. Colleges must also deal with the issue of finances. Many colleges are in financially precarious position and must reopen. Private colleges without large endowments are primarily tuition driven institutions and cannot risk having a small decline in enrollment.  

Actions Needed

There is no way to make college re-openings 100 percent safe from an outbreak. However, there are some actions that colleges and the cities they are in can take to help minimize the chances of an outbreak.

  1. Test all students as they come into the university. For larger universities this may be a difficult or impossible task due to the number of students and the costs. For smaller colleges and universities this should be a reasonable action item that could be taken to increase the likelihood of a virus-free campus.
  2. Encourage virtual meetings whenever possible.
  3. Cancel sporting events. This is going to be one of the most controversial of the options because sports has become ingrained in higher education culture. However, hundreds or thousands of people congregated in close proximity during sporting events dramatically increases the risk of a viral spread on the campus. While outdoor spread of the virus is lower than the indoor spread of the virus there is still risk even with outdoor sports.
  4. College towns should close down bars until the virus spread is contained. Closing down bars will require the action of the cities but should be strongly considered. Bars have been shown to cause spread of the virus in communities. With college -age students coming back, bars increase the risk of an outbreak.
  5. Have cafeterias offer a to-go menu only.
  6. Close all shared communal spaces such as gyms, dining rooms, game rooms, etc.
  7. Stopping non-essential travel to areas out-of-state and high risk areas in-state.
  8. For large classes go to a hybrid class option where students can practice social distancing.
  9. A mask requirement for all students, faculty, and staff.
  10. Allow faculty and staff who are at higher risk of the severe effects of the disease to tele-work.
  11. Make sure plenty of hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes are available throughout all buildings on campus.
  12. Find ways to minimize student travel outside the county.
  13. Test students who you know have been to a high risk area.
  14. Shared objects and spaces such as classrooms and bathrooms need to be thoroughly cleaned with much greater frequency.

These actions may not stop an outbreak. The only way to completely stop the outbreak is to have no classes, events, or students, faculty, and staff on campus for the semester. This is probably impossible and would cause significant damage to many institutions without any government aid to help in funding. Federal and state governments may consider helping colleges with an assistance package to deal with the crisis. However, given the political environment at this time, it is unlikely.