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Senate considers coronavirus' ongoing impacts on colleges

(WCAX)
Published: Jun. 4, 2020 at 3:33 PM EDT
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As they prepare for students to return for the fall, colleges and universities around the country are figuring out how they can resume classes safely.

National surveys project a significant drop in enrollment this fall due to the economic fallout from the pandemic as well as students being less likely to travel. That could be a big deal for schools like the University of Vermont, where almost three-quarters of undergraduates are from out-of-state and pay a higher tuition.

The U.S. Senate held a hearing Thursday about getting students back to college safely, and how the federal government can alleviate the financial pressures being felt by schools.

Christina Paxson, the president of Brown University, told lawmakers those pressures will get even worse if students can't return in the fall. "Brown is fortunate, we can weather this. But colleges and universities don't have the resources to do so, and if they can't reopen they will have no choice but to lay off even more of their employees and possibly close forever," she said.

Paxson said her school will not be reopning unless they can plan to follow state and CDC guidelines.In addition to testing, tracing, isolation, quarantine, social distancing, masks and hygeine measures, they're also changing how dorms and classrooms are used to contain the virus as best they can.

American Public Health Association director Georges Benjamin told lawmakers he exects continued spread of the virus for many months to come, so for planning purposes schools should assume they will have new outbreaks of the disease, regardless of what precautions they take. He says school policies should be at least as stringent as municipal and CDC guidelines and that campus health programs should work with local and state health officials to prevent the spread of the virus.

"While most students are less likely to have severe disease when infected, the risk for serious disease is not zero. So, rapid PCR testing for COVID-19 and contact tracing are the centerpiece for disease control and a testing strategy and a plan in line with public health authorities is needed," Benjamin said. He says commuter schools will have a very different risk profile from residential schools, which draw students from around tthe country and the world.

UVM is working with the city of Burlington's "Box-it-in" plan, which fast-tracks a self-quarantine by allowing people who are newly in Vermont to quarantine for seven days and then get tested.

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