Higher education was not spared from the severity of the coronavirus pandemic. Last fall Florida A&M University transitioned to full online instruction due to COVID-19. In the midst of the pandemic, a number of colleges were forced to shut down their on-campus housing and change in-person classes to online courses.
However, this spring, students will either have asynchronous instruction, synchronous in-person instruction, or have a corresponding mix of both hybrid and face-to-face instruction, referred to as hyflex classes.
According to FAMU’s reopening plan, the university established several efforts for prevention, mitigation, and testing. Strategies for prevention include a regularly scheduled cleaning and disinfection of high-touched areas and buildings, installation of additional hand sanitizers, outfitting classrooms, dining halls, and office spaces with protective barriers, installations of sneeze guards where needed, removal or limited seating in high traffic areas and providing return kits to students for in-person instruction, among other changes.
In a study conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital and Case Western Reserve University, investigators used the Clinical and Economic Analysis of COVID-19 interventions (CEACOV) model and found that combining a mandatory mask-wearing policy with extensive social distancing would prevent 87% of infections among students and faculty.
Prior to returning to campus, all individuals attending and working at the university are required to complete the online COVID-19 training. They are also responsible for conducting daily temperature and symptom checks.
The university has also purchased hand-held thermometers for use throughout the campuses and is also planning to be a vaccination hub for faculty, staff and students once the vaccine becomes readily available to the general public.
Prevention efforts and robust testing are essential to protect campuses and the larger community.
Psychology major Tydazjha Francois is concerned about how things will play out this semester.
“The precautions FAMU is taking are appropriate, but how are they keeping on top of faculty and staff to ensure that these procedures are enforced,” Francois said.
FAMU is requiring students and faculty to get tested at least 5 days before returning to campus.
Students must email their proof of test results to firstname.lastname@example.org. If the student has not been tested before returning to campus they will be ordered to get tested at Bragg Stadium or any Tallahassee COVID-19 testing site.
FAMU will also initiate a Main Campus Testing Schedule. This will be conducted bi-weekly for all students, both graduate and undergraduate, faculty, and staff starting Jan. 25.
In addition to this, staffing is ensuring that they adequately meet the needs of their students. Plant Operations Maintenance (POM) is advertising for new staff members to supplement the increased cleaning protocols and will identify additional staff to focus on targeted high-risk areas.
The FAMU Mobile App offers several features including a COVID-19 self-assessment. This Self-Checker monitors and reports COVID-19 symptoms. Although this is a vital part to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on campus, the app needs modifications.
Although Student Health services will use the app to monitor testing compliance, FAMU’s Mobile App should offer confidential reporting and contact tracing to better assist the community. Additionally, the university should also implement environmental sampling. The university must also test high-traffic areas in addition to testing students and staff.
Implementing environmental sampling could give the university an idea of where the virus may be present on campus. It could also push the school to conduct targeted testing for people who are frequently in those areas that positive tests arise.
Institutions have a limited ability to regulate what students do, especially with regard to off-campus behavior. The FAMU Student Code of Conduct should be extended to include COVID-19 expectations.
Students should be required to adhere to behaviors such as wearing face masks, social distancing, compliance with coronavirus examinations, and to refrain from participating or hosting large gatherings. Students who violate these regulations should be subject to disciplinary action, including suspension.
FAMU is doing everything in its capacity to ensure the campus is safe and adheres to CDC guidelines but in the end, it’s up to all members of the community to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission as the spring semester begins.
“Remember that we have a personal, as well as shared responsibility to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” said FAMU Info.