3 Steps Colleges and Universities Can Take to Improve Campus Conditions Amid a Pandemic
Guest article by Brian Miller
College enrollment was down this fall due to fears of COVID-19. To their credit, many schools did adopt innovative measures to promote safety. Purdue University, for example, put testing protocols in place and installed Plexiglas barriers in classrooms.
Despite these and various other measures to protect students and staff, plenty of students were hesitant to return to college campuses. One month into the fall 2020 semester showed enrollment rates dropped 4% below 2019 levels. First-year students showed the biggest decline, with enrollment dropping by 16.1% across the country.
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have cautioned against congregating in large groups. And higher education has, historically, been a place where many people gather. Now, as we look back on the fall semester to get ready for spring, we see that students’ concerns have indeed been validated by the soaring number of COVID-19 cases on campuses across the country. Data from mid-October shows more than 157,000 new cases of COVID-19 at more than 600 institutions.
Under these conditions, it’s logical to expect on-campus populations and enrollment to further decline in the spring semester if administrators can’t control the spread of the virus now. Supplying hand sanitizer and reminding students and staff members to social distance are not enough — colleges and universities must also update cleaning protocols and prioritize planning for high-touch areas.
These three recommendations should help institutions transform their buildings into safer study spaces — and keep them that way throughout the academic year.
Follow regular cleaning and disinfecting schedules.
The CDC has made it clear that the best defense against the spread of germs and viruses is a one-two punch in the form of deep cleaning followed by disinfecting. Cleaning requires spaces to be scrubbed down to remove all dirt and debris. Disinfectants work best when surfaces are spotless before disinfectants are applied.
After the surface is adequately cleaned, cleaning crews can disinfect those areas with products that have been approved by the EPA for use against COVID-19 to eliminate any lingering germs. Soft surfaces such as carpets and upholstered furniture need deep cleaning, too; dirt and germs hide in the fibers of these surfaces.
While traditional businesses have downtime for cleaning after hours when stores are closed, universities are always on, aside from the summer months. They have little downtime for cleaning. For that reason, schools must adhere to a strict cleaning and disinfecting regimen that applies to any high-touch areas first and most frequently. Everyone who visits campus should be aware of the facility management’s schedule to promote transparency and increase comfort.
Keep students, faculty, and staff informed about facility cleanliness.
At this point, it’s impossible to over-communicate the steps you’re taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19. You want to be transparent in how you’re aiming to keep students and staff as safe as possible. Luckily, modern technology can help you update all campus occupants with ease.
School-approved apps or portals, for example, are an excellent channel for school officials to touch base with students and provide updates and other information quickly. Another option is to distribute physical signs with QR codes to be displayed at various locations around campus. When scanned with a smartphone, the QR codes will pull up information about when the location was last cleaned and disinfected and other details of the cleaning.
Messages don’t need to be lengthy to be effective. For instance, students could receive daily updates on dorm cleanings or notes regarding when certain common areas will be closed for disinfection. Students who live on campus may need quick reminders to play their part in keeping everyone safe.
Follow and enforce social distancing guidelines.
Most students and faculty are likely familiar with social distancing guidelines by now. Because COVID-19 spreads among those in close proximity, the CDC recommends keeping a 6-foot distance from others. Every person on campus — including facility managers, faculty members, students, and even resident assistants — should practice these guidelines. Facility managers, faculty, and resident assistants should also enforce social distancing measures among students at all times.
Social distancing can take many forms — whether that’s limiting the capacity of dining halls, classrooms, or other campus buildings; requiring students to reserve a time to shower in a dorm; or offering hybrid classes with a combination of virtual and in-person instruction. Another option is to redesign the layout of dorm rooms, classrooms, and cafeterias to encourage less direct contact and close proximity between students.
These measures may feel unusual, but they’ll become second nature as long as campus officials make sure they’re enforced. One thing is certain: The 2020/2021 school year will be one to remember. By putting cleaning and disinfecting plans in place today, institutes of higher learning can ace the test they never expected to take.
Brian Miller is an operational support specialist at milliCare Floor & Textile Care. In his role, he helps franchises become more efficient and productive to better serve their local markets.