Many colleges and universities have opened their campuses for in-person classes at the same time as the country is experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases. A New York Times survey found more than 200,000 cases and 75 deaths have been connected to college campuses since the pandemic began, most of them since students returned to campus this fall.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, is most commonly spread through close contact with infected individuals—usually via large respiratory droplets that are expelled when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. However, the CDC has recently acknowledged that airborne transmission can also occur through smaller, aerosolized droplets that may spread farther than six feet from the infected person.
This poses a particular risk for college campuses, where students often share small, enclosed spaces such as classrooms, hallways, dorm rooms, study rooms and bathrooms. Experts are urging schools to take extra precautions to limit the spread of infection, especially as the weather cools and the country enters flu season.
Here are five steps that colleges and universities can take to reduce COVID-19 spread.
1. Circulate air. An article from the Wall Street Journal recommended that public spaces like school classrooms should circulate completely fresh air between four and six times each hour in order to reduce the accumulation of viral particles and prevent the spread of infection. Opening doors and windows when possible is a way to increase airflow.
2. Maintain or update HVAC systems. An article in Campus Security and Life Safety states that a building’s HVAC system can help decrease transmission rate and recommends that schools consider HVAC systems as part of their overall COVID-19 mitigation strategy.
3. Use air purifiers. High-efficiency portable air purifiers placed in central areas can help filter air in classrooms.
4. Separate students and enforce mask wearing. Placing desks 6 feet apart and requiring masks while indoors can limit the amount of viral particles in the air. Discourage students from sharing items or attending group gatherings on or off campus.
5. Clean high-touch surfaces. Door handles, light switches and other high-touch surfaces should be disinfected regularly to prevent the transmission of disease. To maintain low transmission risk, the CDC recommends cleaning at least daily or between uses.
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