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How Northeast Ohio colleges are approaching health and safety guidelines this fall

File photo of Baldwin Wallace University’s 2021 move-in

Another semester brings another round of pandemic-related health and safety precautions for Northeast Ohio’s colleges and universities. This semester, though, seems to mark a stronger return to whatever “normal” looks like amid the pandemic.

It’s the third fall in a row that’s been impacted in some way by COVID-19. And though precautions have greatly shifted from the height of the pandemic when desks were 6 feet apart and masks were required everywhere, there are still some guidelines in place.

A recently published study from the Journal of the American Medical Association found that with proper measures in place at a large university, in-class transmission of the virus was “negligible.”

But now, officials may have to deal with monkeypox, too. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health, in late July called the virus a “disease of significant public concern.”

Crain’s Cleveland Business surveyed the policies of some of the area’s nearly 30 nonprofit colleges to learn their plans. All reiterated they would be following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control as well as state and local leaders. Things could change at any point in time.

Take a look at what a variety of the area’s private, four-year public and community colleges are planning to offer.

Baldwin Wallace University: Officials applauded the campus community for the “excellent job” they’ve done to help curb the virus, writing in a college-wide email the same is expected as they return to Berea this month.

Masks remain optional. The university’s health center will offer free booster shots as well as self-tests. A BW spokeswoman said its health advisory committee will soon be meeting to discuss educational opportunities regarding monkeypox, but plans to have a fact-based awareness campaign and will “make sure our campus community is prepared to recognize and contain any cases that may occur.”

Case Western Reserve University: At the end of the spring semester, the University Circle institution reported nearly a 96% vaccination rate. Vaccines continue to be required, officials wrote to community members at the beginning of August. Masks are encouraged, but required for medical students and instructors when at CWRU and the Cleveland Clinic’s Health Education Campus.

Tests are “strongly” recommended for those returning to campus, officials said. Students who test positive should isolate for the required time. Those who live on campus could isolate there in their residence, per the email. If they have a roommate who’s not positive, the roommate has the option to stay at a hotel room reserved by the university “depending on availability at the time.”

Cuyahoga Community College: A banner at the top of Tri-C’s website said everyone visiting one of the college’s facilities must be masked, no matter their vaccination status.

Kent State University: The institution with the highest local full-time enrollment will continue to follow CDC guidelines, according to officials. That includes mask requirements.

“Once the new CDC county designations are released on Thursdays, we get out an email to our Kent State community by 8 a.m. Friday to let them know which counties are “high” and thus which campuses and locations now require masks indoors,” a spokeswoman told Crain’s.

During the week beginning Aug. 5, for instance, officials told campus community members that masks were required at the university’s locations in Ashtabula, Columbiana, Summit and Tuscarawas counties.

Vaccines aren’t required, though, and there aren’t any widespread testing requirements in place for the fall at this time. The institution does offer free self-tests as well as symptomatic testing at its health center. Testing for monkeypox will be available at the center, too.

Lakeland Community College: A spokeswoman said the college is “continuing to monitor CDC, state and local guidance regarding COVID variants and monkeypox,” with plans to make a decision later in the month about any additional safety measures to implement for the fall.

Amy Morona covers higher education for Crain’s Cleveland Business, in partnership with Open Campus.

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