The state released on Friday detailed reopening guidance for higher education institutions, which, among other restrictions, prohibits indoor classes for college and universities in counties that have been on the state's coronavirus monitoring list for three consecutive days.
The California Department of Public Health noted this guidance is interim, likely to change and "do not reflect the full scope of issues that institutions of higher education will need to address." The implementation also depends on local public health conditions, including that new coronavirus cases and hospitalization rates should be "consistently stable or decreasing over at least 14 days" as well as local availability of testing.
"These guidelines and considerations are based on the best available public health data at this time, international best practices currently employed, and the practical realities of managing operations," the guidance states. "Implementation of this guidance should be tailored for each setting, including adequate consideration of programs operating at each institution and the needs of students and workers. Administrators should engage relevant stakeholders — including students, their families, staff and labor partners in the school community — to formulate and implement plans."
Locally, Stanford University is still planning to alternate bringing half of its undergraduate students to campus during different quarters, with the majority of courses still happening online, even for students who are living there in person. The university said it will provide another update on plans for the fall quarter this month.
Foothill College, the Los Altos Hills community college, has planned for a fully virtual fall quarter, with limited exceptions for students in health programs who need some in-person training to complete their degrees, including for dental hygiene, paramedic, radiologic technology, pharmacy technologist, respiratory therapy and veterinary technology.
When California colleges and universities reopen, they must "require and reinforce use of face coverings" among students as well as employees in accordance with the state's mandates for members of the public. During in-person classes, however, instructors in a lecture hall who maintain a distance of 6 feet or more can wear face shields with a "drape," the state Public Health Department said.
While indoor lectures at higher education institutions in counties with troubling coronavirus trends cannot take place, there are exceptions for "courses offered in specialized indoor settings (e.g., labs, studio arts), whose design imposes substantial physical distancing on participants based on the nature of work performed in the space, are permitted," the guidance states.
The state urges colleges and universities to use outdoor spaces for classes and to also offer synchronous distance learning in addition to in-person classes to help reduce the number of people who are physically on campuses.
College dining halls will be grab-and-go only. "Nonessential" shared spaces on campuses, such as game rooms and lounges, will be closed. Access to campus athletic facilities must be limited to "essential" personnel, such as players, coaches and trainers. Telework should be encouraged for as many faculty and staff as possible, especially employees who are at higher risk for contracting COVID-19.
When campuses reopen, they will be less accessible to the public and outsiders. Schools should "limit, to the greatest extent permitted by law, external community members from entering the site and using campus resources, as the number of additional people onsite and/or intermixing with students, faculty, and staff increases the risk of virus transmission," the guidance states.
In-person activities or meetings involving external groups or organizations, especially with people who are not from the local geographic area, are not allowed at this time, the state Public Health Department said.
Organizations affiliated with schools, such as off-campus clubs, fraternities and sororities, must adhere to all of the same restrictions and be held accountable to doing so by their college or university.
The state guidelines also include several pages of detailed guidance for college athletics. Sports teams will only be allowed to practice in person with regular testing, an institution-specific "return to play" safety plan and other requirements. Small groups practicing for shorter periods of time outdoors in sports that allow for social distancing is safest, the state said. Masks will not be required for athletes but should be worn by players and staff on the sidelines.
"The length of time, proximity of contact and use of shared equipment increases the potential risk for athletes. To help mitigate those risks, colleges who wish to resume competition should provide strong protections for their student athletes, including allowing them the choice to opt-out of the season without the risk of a scholarship being revoked, reduced or cancelled, or any other kind of retaliatory activity," the guidance states.
Higher education institutions must create COVID-19 prevention plans, perform a "comprehensive risk assessment of all work areas, work tasks, and student interactions," and designate a person at each campus to implement the plan. If there are any coronavirus cases on campus, colleges and universities should investigate the cases, determine what factors could have contributed to risk of infection and update the plan accordingly, the guidance states.
Routine testing isn't required but should be a consideration for colleges and universities, the Public Health Department said.
The public health guidance also includes a section on "coping and resilience" that urges advertising mental health resources and encouraging students and employees "to take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media if they are feeling overwhelmed or distressed."
View the full guidance for higher education institutions here.