Universities and colleges may reopen in fall, governor says

His order requires masks and physical distancing, among other measures, to help prevent infections.

Gov. Jay Inslee on June 24 cleared the way for Washington’s universities and colleges to welcome students back to campuses this fall.

Public and private universities, colleges, technical schools, apprenticeship programs and similar schools and programs may resume general instruction, including in-person classes and lectures, starting Aug. 1 under a proclamation signed by the governor.

It won’t be a “usual situation” he said at a televised news conference. And the spread of the virus could swiftly change things on any campus.

To get students back in classrooms, universities and colleges must commit to implementing and enforcing health requirements aimed at preventing coronavirus infections.

That will mean having students wear masks in classrooms, dining halls and dormitories. To maintain physical distance, classes may be less crowded and common areas may get remodeled with furniture removed to reduce places for people to gather in numbers.

Sanitizing doorknobs, elevators and vending machines, as well as bathrooms, classrooms and high traffic areas, will need to be increased.

In areas where food is served, diners must wear cloth face coverings except while eating. And when it comes to paying, cash is not acceptable. It should be done with a card or another means that doesn’t require physical contact, Inslee said.

Each institution will have to draw up a reopening plan that incorporates detailed guidance developed by a work group of leaders from two- and four-year colleges.

One key component will be regular health screenings. Colleges will need to sort out how to make sure students and staff are asked if they have experienced any COVID-19 symptoms since their last visit to any place on campus. And, to the extent possible, keeping a log of everyone — students, staff, administrators and visitors — who comes to a campus, information that would be used for tracing contacts of an infected person.

While everyone is eager for college life to restart, Inslee stressed it must be done “in a manner that is safe.”

Colleges shuttered campuses and started conducting classes online in early March as the COVID-19 outbreak spread. As businesses reopen and a degree of normalcy returns, colleges are diagramming plans to offer a combination of in-person and remote classes for the fall quarter.