Author: Karen Mueller, CBC, Executive Vice President and Partner, HORAN
The now-over-year-long COVID-19 pandemic has left a lasting global impact, including a shift in what colleges and universities need to maintain a safe, healthy campus. University health resources have been stretched this past year and will continue to be challenged in the 2021-2022 school year.
Being unprepared is not an option. Studies found colleges with over 20,000 students that opted for in-person classes in Fall 2020 experienced an over 50% increase in COVID-19 cases. And those cases didn’t just affect the local campus; they also impacted the surrounding area.
With President Biden’s recent announcement that all individuals age 18 years and older are now eligible for vaccination, your university needs to consider how to handle vaccinations and communication around COVID-19 safety in your transition back to campus this summer and fall.
Testing and Vaccinations
Before students return to campus, you need to understand options around COVID-19 testing and vaccinations. Many colleges and universities have testing plans already in place but those that don’t need to think about testing requirements and related costs. While the tests and vaccines themselves may come at no cost to the school, administering each may come with a price tag. Get the details on your student health insurance program now so you can be ready to inform students and work on ways to make both testing and vaccination affordable or free on campus.
When it comes to requirements, the COVID-19 vaccines can and should be treated the same as other vaccines. Colleges and universities may require students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as they do with meningitis and hepatitis vaccinations. However, institutions are not mandated to add the COVID-19 vaccine to its required vaccinations. At the time of writing, at least 10 colleges, including Rutgers University and the University of Notre Dame, are requiring students to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.
As you decide whether mandated vaccination is right for your campus, you’ll need to consider access – students don’t have access to COVID-19 vaccines in the same way as other vaccines. And, since the COVID-19 vaccines were created under Emergency Use Authorization, there may be hesitancy and potential legal issues surrounding mandating COVID-19 vaccination. You should also consider that, even if required, most state laws allow students to opt-out of vaccinations for medical, religious and even philosophical reasons.
Anticipate that there will be students on your campus that, for one reason or another, are not or cannot be vaccinated against COVID-19. Prepare yourself with methods to track who is and is not vaccinated and protocols on how to handle those who are vulnerable should there be an outbreak on campus. Such preparation is crucial for international students who opt to come back to campus. Their accessibility to the vaccination will be different from domestic students as will their ability to leave campus should an outbreak occur. Coordinate appropriately to keep students safe.
As many colleges and universities found over the last year, the best way to combat an outbreak or spread of the virus on campus is to keep your student population educated and supported. Help them understand your protocols around testing: where it will happen, how often, what it’ll cost and what to do if they test positive. Similarly, make sure to inform them about the importance of the vaccination. Determine if you can become a vaccination site and how that could impact your campus health and, if not, how you can help students get vaccinated when it’s their turn. Many colleges and universities are already receiving vaccine allotments from their state and are coordinating how to distribute them among students and staff. Consider if you’re able to take advantage of a similar program.
Other areas to consider are providing free masks or other protective resources at little or no cost to students and ramping up your mental health resources. These resources can help students feel more protected. A Hanover Research study found most students know where to get mental and physical health care on campus, but they rarely reach out for help beyond “academic assistance”. Think about ways you can bring these protective measures into your student population.
Communicating the “Next Normal”
Students and parents alike don’t know what to expect from this coming academic year. It’s your job to clearly and consistently communicate with incoming students and their families about how they can prepare and what to expect. Most universities will hold online orientation this summer. Leverage tools like gamified learning and short, educational video clips to bring information about testing, vaccination and other COVID-safety resources to increase communication and understanding.
Work with a Partner to Help You Prepare
Addressing the implications of a global pandemic is new to everyone. A trusted partner like HORAN Campus Health Solutions can help you coordinate these complex campus health issues. Our team works with you to understand elements like your current student health insurance coverage and on-campus health resources as well as navigate what you need to prepare your student population for a safe return to campus in 2021.
Let us quickly guide you to the best options for your unique campus community: fill out a simple contact form or get in touch with Chris Mihin, Vice President and Managing Principal, HORAN Campus Health Solutions, at ChrisM@horanassoc.com or 513.794.2960.