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California Public Health Officials Release Guidance on Higher Education

Date: August 7, 2020
Number: NR20-187

Institutions of Higher Education Must Make Modifications to Reduce Risk of COVID-19 Transmission for In-Person Instruction 

Collegiate Athletics Must Follow Vigorous Testing Procedures 

SACRAMENTO – The California Department of Public Health today released statewide interim guidance for institutions of higher education (IHE). The guidance is intended to help institutions and their communities plan and prepare to resume in-person instruction when appropriate based on local conditions. IHE must take steps to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission on campus and to protect students, faculty, workers, and families. 

"As colleges and other institutions of higher education plan to resume in-person instruction, it's critical that campuses make modifications to reduce risk," said Dr. Erica Pan, State Epidemiologist. "This guidance aims to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 among our students, families, and the communities where they study."  

A phased reopening of higher education institutions will depend on local conditions including epidemiologic trends, availability of IHE and community testing resources, and adequate IHE preparedness and public health capacity to respond to case and outbreak investigations. 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 staff.

The guidance identifies areas IHE must address as they consider resumption of in-person instruction. This includes:  

  • Complying with Guidance on the Use of Face Coverings (PDF).
  • Establishing a campus-specific COVID-19 prevention plan.
  • Implementing distancing on campus. Space seating/desks at least six feet apart.
  • For counties on the County Data Monitoring list for three consecutive days, indoor lectures are currently prohibited. 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.
  • Limit nonessential visitors and campus activities.
  • Closing nonessential shared spaces, such as game rooms and lounges.
  • Providing grab-and-go meal options or serve individually plated meals.
  • Prioritizing single room occupancy for housing, except for family housing.
  • Training faculty, staff and students on COVID-19 prevention.
  • Encouraging telework for as many faculty and staff as possible, especially workers at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
  • When a student, faculty or staff member tests positive for COVID-19 and has exposed others, the IHE must conduct initial assessments then consult with local public health officials to determine potential follow-up actions needed including potential total or partial closure and other measures to protect the community.

The IHE guidance also outlines conditions under which collegiate athletics may return. This includes:  

  • Teams must require masks for coaches, staff, media and any players not engaged in play at each match.
  • Practice may resume only if regular periodic COVID-19 testing of athletes and support staff is established and implemented by the IHE. Isolation and quarantine will be required upon a positive test.
  • Competition between teams without spectators can begin only if:  
    • IHE can provide COVID-19 testing and results within 72 hours of competition in high contact risk sports.
    • Athletics departments should consider how to share testing results and related safety assurances to opposing teams before the start of an event in a manner consistent with applicable health information and education privacy laws. 
    • In conjunction with local public health officials and contact tracers, schools must have in place a mechanism for notifying other schools should an athlete from one team test positive within 48 hours after competition with another team.
  • Teams must follow the college athletic association (e.g., NCAA), conference-specific, and institutions of higher education-specific "return to play" safety plans. 

Due to the higher risks associated with play, IHEs are expected to ensure full compliance with the state guidelines for college athletics. The state expects campus leaders to strictly adhere to these guidelines and to ensure player protections, including the preservation of scholarships and prohibition of requiring players to sign waivers of liability. In addition, the state will be actively monitoring decisions by IHEs and the NCAA, regarding protections to preserve eligibility through medical redshirts for players who exercise their right under the guidelines to opt-out for the season, and will take further action as necessary.

"California will consider further action if the NCAA or other sport institutions fail to meet these requirements and prioritize their economic interests over the health and well-being of players – and their families," added Governor Gavin Newsom. 

The institutions of higher education guidance is available in the COVID-19INDUSTRYGUIDANCE:Institutions of Higher Education (PDF).

California will continue to update and issue guidance based on the best available public health data and the best practices currently employed. More information about the state's COVID-19 guidance is on the California Department of Public Health's Guidance web page.

More information about reopening California and what individuals can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19, visit Coronavirus (COVID-19) in California

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