On June 4, 2021, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidance (Guidance) for institutions of higher education (IHEs). As IHEs await the return of students come fall 2021, the CDC released this guidance with the goal of increasing vaccine uptake. Specifically, the CDC announced, among other things, that IHEs with a fully vaccinated population, including students, faculty, and staff, can hold in-person classes at full capacity without requiring or recommending masking or physical distancing, eliminate mask requirements in other settings, and forgo physical distancing protocols except as otherwise indicated in its Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People.
Importantly, the CDC distinguishes between a fully vaccinated campus, where all students, faculty and staff are fully vaccinated (i.e., it has been 14 days since their final vaccination), and a mixed campus, where some community members are vaccinated, and others are not. With respect to each campus, the Guidance provides insights into how institutions can adapt to the variation in vaccination status among its population and offers more general ways IHEs can prevent the spread of COVID-19 among their population. Below are some of the highlights:
- Crowded settings for those who are not fully vaccinated still pose a risk, so IHEs should continue to require non-vaccinated students to wear masks
- IHEs are encouraged to provide on-site vaccination clinics in their facilities or through local partnerships. They should reach out to their state and local health departments to learn how these agencies can assist in distributing vaccines among the community. The U.S. Department of Education also released guidance which noted IHEs can use a portion of federal pandemic relief aid to pay for on-campus vaccination sites, among other COVID-19-related uses
- The Guidance requests that IHEs promote the COVID-19 vaccine by developing "educational messaging for vaccination campaigns to build vaccine confidence" and to utilize student clubs and sports in their campaigns
- Fully vaccinated IHEs no longer need to require their population to wear masks, barring local and state rules and regulations. Physical distancing is no longer necessary, and shared housing for fully vaccinated students can return to normal for fully vaccinated campuses
- IHEs should encourage their students, faculty, and staff to perform daily health screenings and encourage individuals to stay home when they are sick and/or seek medical care. Students, faculty, and staff should report their symptoms to the IHE, which, in turn, should collaborate with the local health department for contact tracing purposes
- For mixed campuses, IHEs should implement suggested prevention strategies, such as offering and promoting vaccinations, consistent use of masks indoors and in crowded settings for those not fully vaccinated, implementing physical distancing, contract tracing, on-campus testing, and maintaining heightened cleaning protocols and personal hygiene etiquette
- Mixed campuses should designate specific dormitories, floors, or complexes for those who are fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, or unvaccinated, respectively. When feasible, students who are not fully vaccinated should be in a single-room instead of a shared room. IHEs should limit the use of, or access to, communal spaces in order to decrease interactions with non-vaccinated individuals, and limit access to all dormitories by non-residents
- Individuals involved with athletics who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear a mask, physically distance, or quarantine. IHEs should offer and promote the vaccine, establish testing protocols prior to traveling, and establish policies for players, coaches, staff, and spectators prior to hosting large sporting events
- All study abroad programs should be aware of the CDC's destination-specific Travel Health Notices for the host country and should postpone programs that would send students to countries with very high COVID-19 levels. Students and faculty should be made aware of and follow all airline and destination entry requirements
IHEs should review the recent Guidance in full and stay up to date with local and state laws and guidance regarding COVID-19. We will continue to monitor federal, state, and local guidance and protocols for any further developments.