Story at a glance

  • On a phone call with governors, Deborah Birx urged universities to accommodate students who test positive for the coronavirus in separate housing.
  • Sequestering ill students can help prevent future outbreaks, she said on Monday.

Colleges and universities nationwide have grappled with the decision to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic and what mitigating factors officials can implement to reduce virus transmission among in-person learning and student activities. 

On a Monday call to state governors, the Trump administration urged college presidents in each state to not send infected students home, instead requesting that they stay on campus after testing positive.

Inside HigherEd reports that Deborah Birx, one of the infectious diseases experts on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said that if sick students return home, the virus could spread further, resulting in another outbreak. 


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“Sending these individuals back home in their asymptomatic state to spread the virus in their hometown or among their vulnerable households could really recreate what we experienced over the June time frame in the South,” Birx reportedly explained. “So I think every university president should have a plan for not only testing but caring for their students that need to isolate.”

Birx, who was joined on the call by Vice President Pence and fellow diseases expert Anthony Fauci, used the University of Wisconsin-Madison as an example. The large school has devised housing for infected students to quarantine so students and faculty can remain on campus while infected students isolate themselves and prevent further spread. 

Many schools are already developing this solution, according to Terry Hartle, the American Council on Education’s senior vice president for government and public affairs. Hartle told Inside HigherEd colleges that elect to allow students and staff to return to campus are supposed to have a solid plan for individuals who test positive to quarantine and have access to medical support.

“There is simply no way that a campus would go through the extensive planning related to reopening in the COVID environment -- cleaning, testing, tracing and distancing -- and fail to ask themselves, ‘How do we isolate and treat students who test positive?’” Hartle said. 


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Published on Sep 02, 2020