How CDC advice could shape CC life in the fall

Also, new Colorado guidelines for K-12 schools

Happy Friday! It’s almost the end of May, which brings us one step closer to June and leaves us with just two full months before schools would typically reopen in August. 

But not much is typical about life right now, so today we decode some of the government guidelines issued for higher-ed institutions and K-12 schools planning for fall semesters. And we’ll try to envision the impacts they may have if Colorado College were to return in the fall. 

ICYMI: Yesterday, we broke down CC’s new academic calendar and took a look at what other colleges and universities around the country are planning. 

Residency silver linings: An end to the 'overflow triple'?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a list of considerations higher-ed institutions should keep in mind as they prepare for fall semesters, and the Colorado Department of Education recently published guidelines for its K-12 schools. We read through all of them — you’re welcome — and will hit some of the highlights.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear the CDC say a completely virtual semester would have the lowest risk. But for colleges and universities planning to go back, here are some of its recommendations:

On Classes: If schools opt for in-person classes, the CDC suggests each person stay six feet away from anyone else, which may necessitate having smaller classes in larger rooms. While the agency doesn’t give a specific number, its recommendations suggest small class sizes and emphasize that no one should share materials with anyone else. 

What that could mean for CC: With this recommendation, the Block Plan is already one step ahead since there’s only one class per classroom on campus. With some exceptions, the faculty and students in each course are the only ones in that indoor space, and most classes are capped at 25 students. However, some classrooms are cozy as is, and it will take some creativity to get everyone in a circle for a discussion while sitting six feet apart.

On Dining: First, the CDC recommends closing shared spaces, including dining halls, lounges, and exercise rooms, or otherwise restricting the number of people who can come in at one time, making sure everyone stays at least six feet apart, and cleaning and disinfecting between use. They suggest grab-and-go options for all meals, including individually plated meals for cafeterias that typically operate buffet-style, and using disposable dishes and utensils whenever possible. If serving food at an event, it should come in pre-packaged containers for attendees, and people should avoid sharing food and utensils. 

What that might mean for CC: Say goodbye to dragging all the Rastall chairs to one table. Between the buffet lines and cramped tables, the CDC won’t be eating at Rastall anytime soon. Benji’s, Colorado Coffee, and the Preserve could still make food to-go, but sitting inside to eat might be nothing more than a memory. Lunch meetings with greasy pizza boxes scattered on a table in upstairs Worner could also be out. In order to have a meeting between class and lab, it would probably have to feature pre-packed food and take place in a large room. 

On Housing: Crowded dorm lounges and bedrooms could soon be much emptier. The CDC recommends housing “add physical barriers, such as plastic flexible screens, between bathroom sinks and between beds especially when they cannot be at least 6 feet apart.” Additionally, schools should consider restricting stairwells to one direction and limiting elevator capacity. Schools should only use communal spaces if people can safely stay six feet apart. Colorado’s health department additionally recommends limiting students living in on-campus housing to one-person per room, if possible.

What that could mean for CC: Roughly 75% of CC students are required to live on campus, and many first-year students live in double or triple rooms in dorms. In order to comply with this guidance, significant modifications would need to be made to campus housing. Under the current housing set-up, providing each student with their own room would probably take some creativity. Everything from making chicken nuggets in the communal kitchen to doing homework in someone else’s room might no longer be allowed. Students living in apartments with shared — and not regularly cleaned — kitchens and bathrooms would face similar challenges. 

‘Masks are cool’: What the Colorado Department of Education is saying to K-12 schools.

First, why should I care about what K-12 schools are doing?

Because the CDE recommendations for K-12 schools mimic much of what the CDC recommends for higher-ed institutions. Whatever happens next fall, we’ll likely be facing it together with our K-12 peers.

The CDE says a decision to suspend in-person instruction for Colorado K-12 schools in the fall could happen at three levels, in hierarchical order:

  1. By a state Executive Order or Public Health Order, as was the case for the spring 2020 semester.

  2. By a local health order from a local public health department.

  3. By a school district.

For K-12 schools to continue in-person instruction, the decision needs to first clear the above three conditions, and for now, the CDE is telling schools to keep their options open.

“Planning for restarting the school year may seem like a moving target given the emerging epidemiological data and public health guidelines,” the guidance packet says. “CDE recommends establishing contingency plans and leaving many options open, including remote learning and small-group in-person learning.”

If you are thinking that tells you exactly nothing, you’re not alone. But if in-person learning for Colorado K-12 schools does occur, it likely won’t look like it did last fall.

Here are a few of the recommended safety protocols:

  • Schools should be prepared to conduct daily temperature checks and monitor potential symptoms for everyone entering the building. A Colorado public health order requires regular screening systems right now for any employers with over 50 employees in one location, and current Colorado “safer at home” recommendations for higher education include conducting daily temperature checks.

  • Reinforce social distancing on buses by marking with tape where students can sit, and in hallways by designating them as one-way.

  • Reinforce cohort limiting, in which a small group of students and a teacher would stay together the whole day, including for lunch and recess.

  • Anyone older than 3 should wear cloth face coverings or masks whenever possible. “If students are expected to mask, implement an influencer campaign ‘masks are cool,’” the CDE says.

  • If there is a confirmed COVID-19 case in a school, the CDC and CDE recommend closing the building for two to five days to clean and disinfect the building and to coordinate with the appropriate health officials for contact tracing purposes.

That’s all for today. Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you in your inbox on Monday morning. 

About the CC COVID-19 Reporting Project

The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project is a student-faculty collaboration by Colorado College student journalists Miriam Brown and Arielle Gordon, Journalism Institute Director Steven Hayward, Visiting Assistant Professor of Journalism Corey Hutchins, and Assistant Professor of English Najnin Islam. Work by Phoebe Lostroh, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology at CC and National Science Foundation Program Director in Genetic Mechanisms, Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, will appear from time to time.

The project seeks to provide frequent updates about CC and other higher education institutions during the pandemic by providing original reporting, analysis, interviews with campus leaders, and context about what state and national headlines mean for the CC community. 

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