One of the great strengths of a college campus is the free flow of people and ideas. Students, faculty, and staff from diverse backgrounds and locations add to the unique tapestry of each individual institution. Human interaction, whether in a classroom, a lab, or even just the cafeteria adds immeasurably to the collective community experience.
When the COVID-19 crisis emerged, the idea of individuals congregating in close quarters after arriving from faraway places and then circulating within and outside a campus was considered in a new light due to the risk of spreading a highly contagious and potentially deadly virus. While COVID-19 changed views of work, play, and commerce, some of the quickest and most dramatic changes happened in higher education. Colleges and universities have an unyielding responsibility to provide a safe environment. Suddenly, the very foundation of what that means was shaken to its core.
Evolution of Testing
Last spring, when most colleges shut down their campuses and sent students home to complete the semester online, testing options were limited. Tests were typically reserved for patients showing symptoms, often when illness was quite severe. Without being able to broadly test a campus population and with the rapid spread of the virus, administrators were left with no other option.
As plans for the Fall 2020 academic year were formulated, testing availability increased. Instances where the virus spread rapidly became better known and understood, re-enforcing some of the risks associated with close contact in institutional settings. This forced administrators to consider a wide range of scenarios—from fully on-campus to fully online to options in between.
Active virus (PCR) tests are now widely available and among the most reliable. This is a critical tool when considering precautions that can be taken to help ensure that a campus can remain open and fully functional.
Testing as a Way Forward
If a decision has been made to roll out a testing program, the question then turns to the best way to test. Sterling has been a leader in this area, launching one of the first end-to-end tech-based solutions that is applicable to large and dynamic populations.
Our key learnings from clients across industries, but particularly within education include:
A Culture of Safety
While testing represents the critical “science” aspect of managing COVID-19, human behavior is the equally necessary “art” component, which is by its nature less exact. This is where a focus on other recommendations from the CDC such as social distancing and appropriate hygiene can considerably diminish the threat of transmission. Many academic institutions have taken decisive actions here by reconfiguring and reimagining the classroom as well as changing social spaces. Continuous messaging about following social distancing guidelines and reducing risky behaviors, in conjunction with available and robust testing, may help increase the chance that your campus can continue to be the open, desirable environment that your community values.
Alla Schay is the general manager of the Industrials, Government, & Education group of Sterling, a leading provider of background and identity services.