State issues guidance for reopening institutions of higher education

The state of California published reopening guidelines for institutions of higher education Wednesday, which will be used as a blueprint for county approval of USC’s Project Restart.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health released guidance for the resumption of higher education activities last week, but county policies could not be made official until Gov. Gavin Newsom issued statewide policies as well. In order for L.A. County guidelines to exit the draft stage, they must align with Newsom’s guidance.

The state protocol requires that colleges and universities enforce the use of face coverings on campus, although it permits professors able to practice social distancing while in class to wear a face shield instead.

In addition to requiring personal protective equipment, institutions of higher education are recommended to implement single-occupancy housing. USC announced in a June 29 email that all rooms in its residence halls, suites and apartments would be reduced to single occupancy to facilitate social distancing and lessen inter-resident contact and reduce population density on campus.

All campus buildings’ frequently touched surfaces, such as door handles, drinking fountains and hand railings, are to be cleaned and disinfected throughout the day, per the state’s guidance. Shared objects, such as lab equipment and desks, should be limited in use to the extent possible or disinfected between uses. Drivers of transport vehicles, such as those that shuttle students between the University Park and Health Sciences campuses, are recommended to practice the same health and hygiene guidance as other staff. Custodial staff who clean campus facilities should have sufficient personal protective equipment.

University-operated public-access buildings, including gyms, libraries and bookstores, will be subject to the same phased reopening guidelines as their nonuniversity counterparts in the county in which they are situated. L.A. County does not presently allow libraries to resume in-person operations, and USC Libraries has extended the due dates of checked-out materials to Aug. 31. 

Under the state guidelines, dining halls must offer to-go options, which USC Hospitality has utilized since March. Dining in will be permitted once the county allows restaurants to resume dine-in activities. Currently, L.A. County prohibits indoor dine-in, although drive-through, carry-out, delivery and outdoor dining have been approved.

The guidance also encourages the use of a self-reporting or daily screening tool to monitor for symptoms in students, faculty and staff. Trojan Check, an app launched by USC earlier this summer, will require all individuals attempting to access campus to complete a daily symptom check before being granted entry.

Institutions of higher education are also recommended to enforce a spaced seating arrangement and conduct smaller classes in larger spaces to ensure seating and desks are at least 6 feet apart. The exception to this recommendation is institutions that are located in L.A. County, which has been on the State County Data Monitoring List for three consecutive days, and are not allowed to hold indoor lectures. Due to the guidelines, USC is currently not allowed to hold indoor lectures as L.A. County has been on the State County Data Monitoring List for three consecutive days. For this reason, guidance suggests that institutions consider using non-classroom spaces, such as outdoor seated spaces — weather permitting.

The document also outlined guidance for student-athletes. Namely, the document suggested institutions provide student-athletes with sufficient protection, such as the choice to opt out of the season’s gameplay without change to any scholarship. This suggestion is in line with the NCAA Board of Governors’ Wednesday ruling that allows student-athletes to opt out due to concerns of contracting the coronavirus without jeopardizing their scholarships. USC and other member institutions must follow the board’s requirements to remain eligible for fall sports. 

Spectatorless games will be permitted if institutions of higher education can provide coronavirus testing and results within a 72-hour period ahead of competition in high contact risk sports, such as football, women’s soccer and women’s volleyball.

All guidance is considered interim, as it is based on the best available data at the time of publication and current international best practices. As new data becomes available, the state’s recommendations will be updated accordingly. 

The University released a statement acknowledging the recent update and how the plans to start the fall semester with classes completely online, with some exceptions for students in clinical education, still stand.

“USC is currently reviewing and analyzing this guidance and will collaborate with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and other authorities to determine its impact on our plans to repopulate our campuses,” the statement read. “Due to local health conditions at this time, we do not anticipate any change to our plans to start the semester fully online with only limited exceptions for clinical education.”

This article was updated Aug. 7 at 7:49 p.m. to include the University’s statement on the higher education and public health guidelines.