N.J. gives guidance to higher ed — including need to present reopening plans to health department at least 2 weeks in advance

The state released guidance Wednesday on the reopening of colleges and universities — a more than 20-page document that laid out various suggestions and regulations.

Gov. Phil Murphy said the document focuses on safeguarding 10 areas of campus life: instruction, housing, computer labs, libraries, research labs, student services, transportation, dining, study abroad and athletics.

The recommendations include all of the things one intuitively would think would be there: more social distancing, fewer students in classrooms, etc.

Higher Education Secretary Zakiya Smith Ellis said they address all issues without being too specific — simply because there are so many variables involved.

One specific was this: The state did not give a date for when colleges and universities can reopen, but it did say they would need to present a plan to the state’s health department at least 14 days before they want to reopen.

Murphy said guidance for K-12 schools would come out next week.

Smith Ellis addressed some of the issues with some specifics during the question-and-answer portion of the governor’s daily COVID-19 briefing:

On social distancing in classrooms: Smith Ellis said each room is a different size, so it will be hard to have a maximum size. But, she said most institutions are going to continue some hybrid version of in-person and online instruction.

“We’re not mandating this, but the practicality is that it’s not going to be full capacity,” she said.

On masks: She said that, when students go to class, they will need to be masked unless they have a reason not to be.

On indoor dining: Smith Ellis said she hopes it will be allowed by the fall — and that, whenever it is, buffet-style meals will be a thing of the past.

On communal bathrooms: She said it will be tough to have hard-and-fast rules because of the different nature of facilities, but that certain things — don’t put personal items on shared spaces, more frequent cleanings — apply in every situation.

On student buy-in: Smith Ellis said COVID-19 will be a big part of orientations.

“If students don’t understand why this is important, they won’t be inclined to do the things,” she said.

On living on campus: She said no student can be required to live on campus.

Murphy said the state is releasing additional education guidance:

In-person clinical, lab and hands-on programming at institutions of higher education can resume July 1, subject to the submission of the institution’s restart plan.

Career and training schools that are not under the state’s purview can reopen July 1, subject to a similar set of health and safety protocols from their respective oversight agencies.

“As we move forward in our restart and recovery, these institutions will play a huge role,” Murphy said. “They are where our future workforce is being created, and where many of the advances in the life sciences, in engineering and in other areas that will have a tremendous impact on our larger economy are taking shape.

“Their health — and the health of everyone on campus — is critical to the overall public health of our state, and to creating the economic health we will need for the long term.”

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