The flashpoints for COVID-19 discussion have circulated a lot over the last few months. At the onset of the pandemic, people were focused on massive spreading events such as concerts and professional sporting events. Afterward, the conversation primarily shifted to businesses like restaurants, gyms, and bars, where social distancing and wearing masks are difficult or impossible to do completely in many circumstances.
Now, as we move into the fall, some of the bigger sources of controversy are college campuses. Some of the major spreading events are originating on college campuses and stories of wild parties where rules are non-existent are an area of concern. There’s an element of truth when it comes to college parties spreading the virus, but this doesn’t tell the whole story. What we do need to zero in on are what measures colleges can take to ensure a safer environment.
A major part of this is education and training, particularly among people who are charged with interacting with the student public on a general basis. One group that is particularly struggling with this added responsibility is resident assistants. Normally, they play a major role both in helping students acclimate to campus life as well as enforcing basic rules and good conduct. However, they are now being forced to learn a whole new set of rules and deal with a hot-button topic, especially in certain areas. College management needs to support and empower these and other campus security figures, as they are most likely to be dealing with people who may not want to comply.
Complicating this issue is the nature of how people handle COVID-19. This is an issue that has been politicized, with a set of disparate responses by region and state. It could very well be a situation where someone from an area where measures are lax moves to a college in an area where they are more stringent and has to adapt accordingly.
Another thing to mention is support plans for people who do get infected. It’s easy to assign blame to partying and irresponsible behavior when someone catches COVID-19. But in a college setting, issues with ventilation in old buildings, shared surfaces, and tight quarters in dorms can also raise an issue. For example, if one roommate adheres to proper standards, and one doesn’t, there’s a good chance both could end up infected. College administrations need to have a plan in place to provide meals, instruction, and other essentials to students who need to quarantine to disrupt their education as minimally as possible.
In some cases, an outbreak can spiral out of control. So, all colleges will need to have a plan in place to quickly switch to online instruction should in-person classes no longer be feasible. PPE for all public areas is essential as well.
Finally, communication matters, whether you’re a small college or major university. A situation can progress from peaceful to an outbreak scenario quickly, so all colleges need to have an emergency alert system so people can know as soon as someone on campus is sick. In some cases, simply having that news is enough to make the situation “real” to some students, causing them to adopt safer measures than they had been.
The college situation is an example of how difficult it can be to balance human behavior and patterns with keeping to COVID-19 restrictions. Some activities and actions that are considered part of the college experience are inherently risky, and in the heat of the moment, many college students are defaulting to that riskier behavior. Vigilance and policy will play a major part in keeping down spread, but so does personal responsibility. We should be looking into tools that help responsible college students minimize spread as much as possible, and the COVID-PreCheck app is a great example. Visit covidprecheck.net or use it from the COVID PreCheck app.
How does this tool function? Before entering any public space like a lecture hall or similar event, college students can perform a self-attestation test to determine whether or not they were recently exposed or are experiencing symptoms. If they aren’t, they can display this with a custom QR code, making it easy to gain access to different settings that are “COVID-free zones” when everyone uses this tool. Also, check out the feature called a Virtual handshake for small groups and gatherings.