4 Ways School Administrators Can Prepare for an Infectious Disease Outbreak on Campus
When Covid-19 suckerpunched the United States in 2020, it was… a lot. Among the fear, turmoil, misinformation, death, and grief that came with the virus was also the realization that we, as a nation, were not as prepared for a widespread infectious disease outbreak as many assumed we were. The pandemic exposed our public health blind spots. As we round the corner into year three P.C. (post-Covid), it’s time to learn from our collective experience.
This is especially true for college campuses. School administrators might recall the 2014 mumps outbreak that began at The Ohio State University, but quickly spread outside of campus. Princeton University had a similar bacterial meningitis outbreak in 2013. Mumps and meningitis are rare diseases that experienced alarming resurgences both on campus and in surrounding communities.
College students routinely gather in classrooms, dormitories, libraries, and gyms, and eschew all semblance of social distancing at jam-packed bars, parties, and athletic events, which makes campuses a veritable playground for pathogens. But such close quarters and a tight-knit population are also why college campuses are uniquely positioned to quickly address and effectively combat infectious disease outbreaks.
Just in time for cold and flu season—and with a seasonal Covid spike surely looming—here are four ways your administration can prepare for a campus health crisis and help ensure your students stay healthy, informed, and focused on learning, growing, and thriving on campus.
Make a plan
You know the saying the best defense is a good offense? That’s never been truer than in the case of public health readiness. The best way to combat disease outbreaks on your campus is to have an action plan in place before they strike.
History can be a keen educator. Consider what worked and what didn’t on your campus during the pandemic. How did you address the isolation and mental health struggles students faced during lockdown? How was your virtual learning rollout? How did you manage limitations in dining halls and long lead times for PPE as well as necessities like toilet paper? Work with school administrators and local public health officials to improve upon your strategies last time around, determine how to best mitigate the spread of infection and administer care, and decide how you are going to keep students and their families informed.
When it comes to containing and managing an outbreak, data is crucial. Ensure you have a campus-wide system in place for reporting and tracking infections so if an outbreak occurs, you will know the scale and speed of its spread.
Communicate, educate, and support
A solid communication and education strategy should go hand-in-hand with an outbreak readiness plan. Public health crises spark confusion, which sparks panic. Effectively communicating what’s happening and what students can do about it is key to managing not only the spread of disease, but also the spread of misinformation and anxiety.
In addition to streamlining communication on campus, it’s important to make sure students feel supported when they’re sick. Empower students to take their health seriously by urging them to seek medical care either on campus or in the community when illness strikes—even if it means missing a class or two. Educate students about the option of telemedicine as well. Most insurance plans, whether it be their parents’ commercial plan or the student health insurance plan, offer telemedicine options so students can speak to a provider without even leaving their dorm room.
Lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic illustrated just how useful virtual learning can be. Students should feel encouraged to stay home when they’re feeling under the weather—to protect not only themselves but also others—and attend classes virtually, if able. It’s important faculty and staff are equally as supportive of these measures to alleviate any apprehension students might feel about missing classes or exams.
Prioritize preventative care
Many infectious diseases can be prevented or minimized through vaccination. Routine vaccines for viruses such as flu, Covid, HPV, and Hepatitis B can be readily offered at student health centers. Consider also offering vaccine kiosks or clinics elsewhere on campus to make vaccination as convenient as possible for students.
While basic preventative measures such as frequent handwashing, using hand sanitizer, and covering coughs and sneezes should be second nature, simple signage posted in high-traffic areas serve as helpful reminders to keep these healthy habits top of mind.
Educating students on services available to them through student health centers, including routine wellness visits, is another way to prioritize preventative care on campus. The more comfortable students are with seeking care when they’re healthy, the more likely they’ll be to seek care when they’re sick, aiding in early detection of infectious diseases and the containment of their spread.
Partner with an expert
Preparing for an infectious disease outbreak on campus is a complex task, but it doesn’t have to feel that way. Let an experienced partner like HORAN Campus Health do the heavy lifting, so you can focus on your students. HORAN’s experts are dialed in to industry trends and the latest vendor solutions, bringing you strategies that have already been vetted and approved. We leverage leading research to help you make data-driven decisions, and lean on our vast network of partnerships to identify the solutions that will work best for you.
At HORAN Campus Health, we champion bold innovations and offer customized health plans, resources, and tools designed to improve the overall health and wellbeing of your students. Together, we can offer the holistic support students need to thrive on campus and succeed in life.
Do you need help developing and executing a strategy to improve student health and wellness on your campus? Visit our Campus Health webpage to fill out a simple contact form or get in touch with Chris Mihin, HORAN Campus Health Vice President and Managing Principal, at ChrisM@horanassoc.com or 513-702-3707.