CDC Issues Coronavirus Guidance for Foreign Programs and Domestic Campuses
March 02, 2020

​​In light of the global outbreak of the novel ​​coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued guidance recommending that colleges and universities “consider" postponing or canceling foreign exchange programs and asking students on study abroad programs to return to the United States.

The guidance for the higher education community, issued Sunday, was the first for higher education community posted by the CDC.

“The COVID-19 situation is dynamic," that guidance stated. “Given the speed of spread and the number of countries experiencing human-to-human transmission, IHEs should evaluate the risks associated with choosing to maintain programs abroad and take the appropriate proactive measures."

The CDC followed that up Monday evening with interim guidance for campuses in the United States. 

“Through collaboration and coordination with local health departments, IHE (Institutions of Higher Education) should disseminate information about the disease and its potential transmission to their students, staff, and faculty," the interim guidance for U.S. campuses said. “IHE should prepare to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among their students, staff, and faculty should local health officials identify such a need."

That interim guidance for campuses also stressed that plans should be “designed to minimize disruption to teaching and learning and protect students and staff from social stigma and discrimination."

Federal health officials last week had urged all Americans to start preparing for the possibility that more aggressive measures might be needed to stop the spread of COVID-19. The warning came in response to outbreaks of the virus outside China, including in Iran, Japan, South Korea, Italy, Israel, and Brazil, which officials say have raised the likelihood the virus will spread further in the United States.

In response to these latest outbreaks and even before the CDC guidance for higher education, colleges and universities—which have been on the front line of response since January—already have expanded their recall of students and faculty from overseas programs and canceled more upcoming trips due to the outbreak. Others are migrating online-only to manage the potential spread. The State Department upgraded its warning against travel to China to the highest level in late January, and added parts of Italy and South Korea to level 4 status over the weekend.

Efforts Intensify on U.S. Campuses

As The Chronicle of Higher Education reported last week, colleges are readying communications plans, cautioning students to use preventive health measures, and even preparing for possible college closures. The mantra across the board seems to be it’s not a question of if this will happen, but when.

A piece in Inside Higher Ed this morning looked at how the spread of coronavirus in California, Oregon, and Washington has triggered student quarantines and other measures to contain the virus. The Washington Post took a deeper look at Kirkland, Washington, where 17 nursing students and four faculty and staff members from Lake Washington Institute of Technology were exposed to the virus at a nursing home last week, prompting the college to close its 7,000-student campus through Tuesday to disinfect the school out of “an abundance of caution.”

On another front, the National College Players Association is calling on the NCAA to consider holding NCAA March Madness tournament games without fans due to its concern over coronavirus. The NCAA has posted a statement on its website saying that it is “taking concerted steps to maintain the first-rate delivery of NCAA championship experiences for student-athletes, team personnel and fans.”

Department of Education Task Force and Other Resources for Institutions

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced last week that her agency is creating a task force to prepare for the possible impacts of the coronavirus. DeVos made the announcement during her appearance before the appropriations committee of the U.S. House of Representatives to discuss the Trump administration's proposed budget. Mitchell Zais, the deputy secretary, will lead the overall task force, and Robert King, assistant secretary, will take point on higher education issues, including federal student aid. The Education Department has released guidance for K-12 schools, but nothing yet for higher education.

Some individual state and local departments of health also have issued guidance for institutions of higher education (see California, Virginia, Washington State, Ohio, and New York City). The American College Health Association also has a good resource page that is tracking developments and issuing guidelines, including the brief “2019 Novel Coronavirus: What Campuses Need to Know.”

In the News

Colleges Fear Longer-term Impacts From the Coronavirus
The Boston Globe (sub. req.) | Feb. 26, 2020

OPINION: Getting Campuses Ready for the Coronavirus
Inside Higher Ed | Feb. 26, 2020

3 Impacts of Coronavirus on College Admissions
Forbes | Feb. 26, 2020

OPINION: Coronavirus on College Campuses: Fight Fear and Racism Along With the Outbreak
USA Today | Feb. 26, 2020

How Much Could the Coronavirus Hurt Chinese Enrollments?
The Chronicle of Higher Education | Feb. 26, 2020

Coronavirus’s Spread in U.S. Is ‘inevitable,’ CDC Warns
The Washington Post (sub. req.) | Feb. 26, 2020

Universities Pulling Students from Italy and South Korea as Coronavirus Outbreak Spreads
Forbes | Feb. 26, 2020

Coronavirus Hits China Exchange Programs
Inside Higher Ed | Jan. 29, 2020

Coronavirus Forces Universities Online
Inside Higher Ed | Feb. 25, 2020

Colleges Brace for More-Widespread Outbreak of Coronavirus
The Chronicle of Higher Education (sub. req.) | Feb. 26, 2020

Coronavirus Quarantines and More
Inside Higher Ed | Mar. 2, 2020

Kirkland, Wash., becomes epicenter of coronavirus response as cases spread
The Washington Post (sub. req.) | Mar. 1, 2020

March Madness in Empty Arenas? Group Says NCAA Should Consider It Because of Coronavirus
Los Angeles Times (sub. req.) | Mar. 2, 2020