The Department of Education (ED), in partnership with officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on Wednesday hosted a webinar aiming to highlight how institutions of higher education should approach potential campus reopenings for the fall semester and how campuses can help in national vaccination efforts.
The discussion, which focused on the Biden administration’s school reopening guidance, aimed to provide stakeholders with the most up-to-date guidance for reopening campuses and how institutions can best mitigate health concerns stemming from the pandemic’s potential prevalence in the months ahead.
The conversation follows ED’s recent release of a handbook to aid higher education institutions and the communities in which they operate reopen for in-person instruction safely and equitably. In a notice, ED said it worked with public health officials to create the handbook, following CDC guidance to prevent and mitigate the spread of the coronavirus on campuses and in communities.
Jonathan Yoder, who serves as lead of the Community Intervention & Critical Populations Task Force for CDC, stressed the importance of vaccination and talked about how students on campuses that are fully vaccinated can resume in-person learning.
“People who are fully vaccinated are at low risk of symptomatic, or severe infection, and there's a growing body of evidence that suggests people who are fully vaccinated are less likely to have asymptomatic infection or to even transmit that virus to others,” Yoder said. “For this reason, the current guidance talks about these campuses where everyone is fully vaccinated can return to full capacity in person learning without requiring recommended masking or physical distancing for people who are fully vaccinated.”
The CDC’s definition of “fully vaccinated” currently states that “all eligible students, faculty, and staff are fully vaccinated,” Yoder said. “As we get more data I think you hopefully can expect some updates.”
Forthcoming guidance could expand a loosening of restrictions for campuses that are at 80% or 90% vaccinated among their students, faculty, and staff — but according to Yoder, that will require more science.
Until that data is available, most institutions will likely be operating on campuses that aren’t “fully vaccinated” for the fall and will be dealing with a mixed population. With this dynamic, Yoder said CDC guidance aims to encourage schools to prioritize maintenance of their in-person learning.
The CDC also provided guidance on how institutions that may not have the health resources for mass vaccinations could find partnership with local pharmacies to help vaccinate students, faculty, and staff.
Shannon Stokley, who serves on the CDC’s Vaccine Task Force, provided participants with resources aiming to promote these partnerships so institutions can bolster their vaccination rates without having to create the infrastructure needed to carry out a vaccine campaign.
“The partnership can take many forms, such as directing students to nearby pharmacy sites. Institutions can also coordinate with local pharmacies to set up blocks of time or days for students to get vaccinated, or even work with the pharmacy to provide on-campus vaccinations,” Stokley said.
Yoder cautioned that the current science cannot guarantee the extent of the pandemic’s impact on the fall and while things in the U.S. look optimistic at the moment, he stressed the importance of campuses having contingency plans.
“There might be variants of the virus that come through that we really will have to start stepping up things again,” Yoder said. “It is really staying in tune with what your local trends are.”
Publication Date: 6/11/2021