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California Department of Public Health and California Division of Occupational Safety and Health Issue COVID-19 Industry Guidance for Institutions of Higher Education
On August 7, 2020, the California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”) and the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (“Cal/OSHA”) issued guidance for the operation of institutions of higher education, including private colleges and universities, to provide safe environments for employee and student safety related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The guidance provides information and best practices regarding several areas of concern with respect to COVID-19. The guidance is available here. We have summarized the guidance in each area below.
The guidance contains a reminder that the CDPH issued guidance on the use of face coverings on June 18, 2020, which requires all individuals in California to wear face coverings:
- Inside of, or in line to enter any public space;
- In work places while interacting with members of the public, preparing or packaging food, walking through or in common areas such as hallways, stairways, elevators, and parking facilities, and in any enclosed area in which individuals are unable to maintain six feet of difference; and
- In outdoor public spaces when individuals are unable to maintain a distance of six feet from persons not members of their household.
Colleges can and should require students and employees to wear face coverings in compliance with these guidelines and any other guidelines contained in the original June 18, 2020 CDPH guidance.
COVID-19 Prevention Plan
The guidance recommends that colleges establish a written, campus specific COVID-19 prevention plan and perform a comprehensive risk assessment of all work areas, work tasks, and student interactions. The plan should also include:
- Contact information for the local public health department to facilitate reporting of outbreaks of COVID-19 amongst students and workers;
- Training for employees and students regarding the plan;
- A schedule to regularly evaluate facilities for compliance with the plan and a process to remedy deficiencies;
- A plan to investigate COVID-19 illness among students and employees to determine whether any college factors could have contributed to the risk of infection;
- Identify close contacts of employees and students with any COVID-19 infected employee or student and take steps to isolate close contacts. Close contact is defined as within six feet for 15 minutes or more;
- Requirements that vendors, independent contractors, and other third parties performing services in college facilities follow guidelines for prevention of transmission of COVID-19, and a process for the college to communicate the plan to the third parties.
General Prevention and Safety Measures
The guidance recommends the following general prevention and safety measures:
- Establish communication with local and State authorities to monitor current disease levels and control measures in the college’s community;
- Limit nonessential visitors from entering college sites and using campus resources, to the greatest extent permitted by law; and
- Develop a plan for the possibilities of repeated closures of classes, groups, to entire facilities when employees or students test positive for COVID-19.
Implementing Physical Distancing on Campus
Colleges should create modified layouts to ensure that students and employees are at least six feet apart. This may require holding smaller classes in larger rooms. Those counties that the State has listed on the State County Data Monitoring List for counties with 100 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 over the last 14 days may not hold indoor classes if they have been on the monitoring list for three consecutive days. They may hold courses outdoors or in other large, non-classroom space. However, the guidance permits courses offered in specialized settings in which students can maintain six feet of distance (e.g., labs, studio arts). Colleges may find more information about the State County Data Monitoring List here.
The guidance recommends colleges provide synchronous distance learning in addition to in-person classes to help reduce the number of in-person attendees. However, this may not be possible for certain types of classes with hands on requirements (e.g., allied health, welding, and firefighting). For those types of classes, colleges should provide adequate physical distancing.
Physical Barriers and Guides
Colleges should install impermeable physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions. This is particularly important for areas where it is difficult for persons to remain six feet apart (e.g., cash registers and office counters). Colleges should also provide physical guides and cues, including tape on sidewalks or floors to mark six feet of distance and signs to remind individuals to maintain six feet of distance. Colleges may also consider designating routes for entrance and exit to guide students and employees to enter and exit in a way that maximizes physical distancing. Finally, colleges should expand procedures for turning in assignments or exams in order to minimize contact, including allowing electronic, or email submission.
As discussed above, colleges should limit nonessential visitors and volunteers from accessing campus to the greatest extent permitted by law, especially individuals who are from outside the college’s geographic area. Colleges should close nonessential, shared spaces, such as game rooms and lounges. For essential communal spaces, colleges should limit the number of individuals using the space by staggering the times of use. Colleges should also clean and disinfect communal spaces between use.
Colleges should set up study spaces for student individual study so students are at least six feet apart. Colleges must limit communal space occupancy to 25 percent of room capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer.
For food service (cafes, cafeterias, etc.), colleges should provide grab-and-go options for meals or individually plated meals (instead of buffet-style meals). Colleges should use either disposable food service items (e.g., utensils and dishes), or should ensure employees handle non-disposable food service items with gloves and wash them with dish soap and hot water or in a dishwasher. Employees should wash their hands before putting on and after removing gloves, and directly after handling food service items. If colleges offer food at events, they should provide pre-packaged boxes or bags for each attendee.
Food courts should follow State and local guidance for take-out and delivery, dine in, and outdoor dining options.
Healthy Hygiene Practices
The guidance recommends that colleges promote recommendations for hygiene practices that prevent transmission of COVID-19. These recommendations are largely the same as previous Federal, State, and local guidance for hygiene practices, including training employees and students to:
- Engage in proper handwashing practices;
- Sneeze and cough into a tissue or, if no tissue is available, the elbow;
- Throw used tissues in the trash immediately; and
- Use hand sanitizer when hand washing facilities are not available (do not use hand sanitizer that contains ethanol).
Colleges should maintain adequate supplies of soap, water, tissues, hand sanitizer with a least 60 percent alcohol, disinfectant wipes, paper towels, and no touch trashcans. Colleges should post clear signs and instructions reminding students and employees to engage in these hygiene measures.
Cleaning, Disinfection, and Ventilation
Cleaning and Disinfection
The guidance recommends that colleges clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces throughout the day, and develop a regular schedule for cleaning and disinfecting. Colleges should avoid both under- and over-use of cleaning products. Colleges should schedule this deep cleaning when students and employees are not present. Colleges should disinfect shared objects (e.g., lab equipment, computer equipment, desks) and any transportation vehicles used by the college to transport employees or students. Colleges should encourage and train employees and students to keep their personal items and workspaces clean, including using disinfecting wipes to wipe down surfaces and shared objects.
The guidance provides recommendations for the safe use of cleaning products, including the type of products to use to avoid the risk of triggering asthma and other health effects from cleaning products. Colleges must provide custodians and other employees engaging in cleaning and disinfecting with appropriate personal protective equipment (“PPE”).
Colleges should ensure that they introduce as much fresh air as possible into college facilities. This includes opening windows, ideally two openings on opposite sides of a room to induce natural ventilation, unless opening windows presents a health or safety risk. In that case, colleges should use room air conditioners or blowers on the “fresh air” setting and use HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) cleaners.
For mechanically ventilated buildings, colleges should disable demand-controlled ventilation and open outdoor air dumpers to 100 percent or the greatest amount feasible under current conditions. According to the guidance, colleges must operate mechanical ventilation systems in buildings continuously while persons are present. They may also improve building mechanical ventilation filtration to MERV 13 or the highest possible level, and add portable room air cleaners with HEPA filters.
Disinfection of Water Systems
Colleges should ensure that all water systems and features are safe to use after prolonged facility shut down (which can result in Legionnaires’ disease and other diseases associated with water). The guidance also prohibits use of drinking fountains, but allows the use of water bottle refilling stations. The college should notify employees and students to bring their own water bottles and not rely on drinking fountains.
The guidance recommends colleges require or strongly recommend that employees and students obtain influenza immunizations, unless an individual is unable to receive the influenza immunization due to a medical condition. It is not clear whether a college may legally require an employee or student to obtain an immunization. State law does not currently require college students to obtain immunizations for admission, except for certain exceptions for students who perform clinical experience in health care facilities. However, colleges may strongly recommend immunizations.
As discussed above, colleges should clean and disinfect shared items and spaces. Colleges should also ensure adequate supplies to minimize sharing of high touch items. This includes assigning students their own art supplies, lab equipment, and computers. Colleges should train employees and students to limit sharing of personal items (e.g., cell phones and other electronic devices, books, pens, and other learning aids).
Colleges should develop a plan to conduct daily symptom screenings for employees and students prior to entry into college facilities. The plan to conduct symptom screenings should ensure that individuals maintain a distance of six feet, including while waiting in line for symptom checks. Colleges can place markers on the sidewalk or other area to ensure physical distancing, and should consider having multiple points of entry to avoid congregation of those waiting for symptom checks.
Colleges should check for the following symptoms:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
Colleges may also ask employees and students to conduct a self-check at home before coming to campus. We recommend that colleges maintain a culture of encouraging employees and students to stay at home if they are feeling sick. This will help the college avoid having sick individuals in the workplace, which will limit transmission.
Employees and students with symptoms may return to the worksite or class after a positive COVID-19 test only if 10 days have passed after symptoms first appeared, their symptoms have improved, and they have not had a fever (without use of fever-reducing medications) for the last 24 hours. If an employee or student with a positive COVID-19 test does not have symptoms, they may return to the worksite or class only after 10 days have passed since the date of the first positive COVID-19 test.
Plan for When an Employee, Student, or Visitor Becomes Sick
Colleges should create a plan for when employees or students display COVID-19 symptoms while in college facilities. The plan should include the following:
- Notification to employees and students to stay home when sick, when they have been exposed to a person who tested positive for COVID-19, or test positive for COVID-19 with reminders that they will not be subject to reprisal for absences;
- Employees and students may not return to work until they meet CDC criteria to discontinue home isolation after symptoms;
- Creation of an isolation room, area, building, or floor and isolate those who become sick at work or on campus (or test positive for COVID-19) and ensure they wear a face covering and go home when able to;
- Arrangements for transport home for employees or students who are ill, if needed;
- Requirement that if an employee or student is suffering from severe symptoms (e.g., bluish lips, significant shortness of breath), call 9-1-1;
- Clean and disinfect areas where ill employees or students were present;
- Notify the local public health officials and appropriate members of the campus community of any positive case of COVID-19 and any close contacts with the positive person (while following confidentiality requirements), including those who have had close contact with a person who tested positive; and
- Ensure non-discrimination against employees and students diagnosed with COVID-19.
Maintaining Healthy Operations
The guidance provides multiple areas of advice for colleges to maintain healthy operations. These include the following:
- Providing options for individuals at higher risk for severe illness to limit risk (individuals at high risk include older individuals and those with underling medical conditions, as set forth here. This may include teleworking and distance learning or independent study options;
- Offer all employees and students teleworking or distance learning options to minimize the number of persons in college facilities and encourage virtual meetings;
- Remain aware of current State or local regulatory agency policies regarding group gatherings;
- Utilize virtual options for student group events (counties on the State County Data Monitoring List for three consecutive days may not hold group events; counties not on the list may hold group events that limit participants to 25 percent of room capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer);
- Consider limiting non-essential travel and encouraging employees and students to use transportation options other than mass transit;
- Designate an administrator as a COVID-19 point of contact for each campus and college-wide;
- Maintain communication systems that allow employees and students to report if they have a positive COVID-19 test or were in close contact with someone with a positive tests and that allow the college to provide prompt notifications of exposures, restrictions, and closures;
- Develop leave and excused absence policies that follow State and Federal guidelines for isolation after COVID-19 symptoms, a positive test, or close contact with a COVID-19-positive individual;
- Create a back-up staffing plan to ensure coverage when employees must isolate or take leave for other COVID-19 reasons;
- Provide support for coping and resilience to employees and students, including promoting healthy habits, encouraging employees and students to seek mental health resources, and to take breaks from reading, watching, or listening to news stories if they are feeling overwhelmed or distressed;
- Consider systematic testing of students or employees.
Considerations for Partial or Total Closures
Even if colleges follow all applicable guidance to avoid transmission of COVID-19, circumstances may require closure of classes, facilities, or entire campuses. It is important to check State and local health officer orders and public health department notices about transmissions in the community and required closures. In addition, the college may be required to close if students or employees test positive for COVID-19. If there are individuals who test positive for COVID-19, colleges should consult the local public health department regarding required follow up, including the need to close. Colleges should also provide notice of the need for the COVID-19-positive individual and any close contacts to isolate as required by State and Federal guidance. In these cases, colleges should provide notice of employee rights regarding disability insurance (where applicable), Paid Family Leave, and Unemployment Insurance.
Colleges should also review their plans and protocols to determine whether they should adjust their prevention plans to avoid additional COVID-19 cases.
Colleges should provide training to employees, students, independent contractors, vendors, and volunteers regarding all of the items discussed above, including:
- The college’s COVID-19 prevention plan;
- Information regarding prevention of transmission of COVID-19, including hygiene practices and underlying medical conditions that do or may result in serious illness for individuals who contract COVID-19;
- CDPH guidance regarding face coverings, and proper care for face coverings;
- Self-screening for COVID-19 symptoms;
- Physical distancing guidelines;
- The importance of seeking medical attention for severe symptoms;
- The importance of not attending work or class when feeling ill; and
- The required isolation period for employees and students with positive COVID-19 tests, whether with or without symptoms.
Colleges must also provide employees with training regarding available leave benefits for COVID-19 purposes.
Colleges should consider providing this training virtually. If a college conducts training in person, it must ensure six foot physical distancing.
Athletics and Housing
The guidance provides significant guidance for colleges that have on-campus housing. In addition, the guidance provides lengthy guidance for athletics. Colleges with on-campus housing and colleges that intend to carry out athletic programs (likely in the spring semester) should review and implement this guidance.
The guidance does not carry the force of law, and the CDPH and Cal/OSHA issued it on an interim basis. Given the rapid changes to information about COVID-19, the guidance is subject to – and will most likely – change. Colleges must also tailor this guidance to their specific needs and circumstances. Colleges should be prepared to address any equity or access issues for students if they return to in-person instruction.
We recommend that colleges follow the guidance as much as possible, both because it provides for best practices to create a safe work and educational environment and because following it will place colleges in the best position to defend against any liability claims they may face. Colleges should also regularly review Federal, State, and local guidance for updates, including from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), CDPH, and Cal/OSHA. Colleges should also review their local orders as they may provide more stringent requirements than State or Federal guidance.