HBCU Graduations – Are They Prepping for COVID-19?By Cash Michaels, Peacemaker Senior Contributor / March 13, 2020
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in response to growing cases of the novel coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19.
During a noon press conference, Cooper said the declaration allows state officials “increased flexibility in responding to containing the spread of the virus.”
As of press time Wednesday, there were seven known COVID-19 cases in North Carolina.
Now that winter is just about over, many college students are headed for spring break; subsequent graduations and the traditional activities that come with them.
But right now, literally as you read this, the sponsors of many of those upcoming events are wondering if they’ll even happen at all, or if they do, how, all because of the ever-increasing threat of COVID-19…the novel coronavirus.
In the Black community, where people hug and greet each other weekly at church or social/civic events, graduations are on the horizon both in secondary schools, HBCUs and larger universities throughout May and June.
Tens of thousands of people, particularly families, will be coming to or through North Carolina to take part.
What can, or is being done to safeguard against COVID-19 transmission in settings where joyous hugging, kissing, and vigorous handshaking are essential parts of the occasion?
According to the U.S. Centers and Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that is most commonly transmitted by close contact, person to person, via respiratory droplets (coughs, sneezes) within six feet, or indirect contact with contaminated surfaces or objects.
A quick review of HBCU campus websites in North Carolina found St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh; North Carolina Central University in Durham; N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro; Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville; and Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, as the only HBCUs out of ten across the state, to have COVID-19 advisories on their websites where they could be easily found.
Several of the schools have advised students coming back from international studies in China, Italy and other foreign countries known to be fighting COVID-19 spread, to self-quarantine for 14 days upon return. All other students are advised to follow CDC guidelines in COVID-19 prevention.
According to the CDC, administrators of colleges and universities should take the following actions to plan and prepare for what to do if a COVID-19 outbreak occurs in your community or school:
To prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses on college campuses and in the community, people should:
- Stay home when sick
- Cover coughs and sneezes
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- Monitor and plan for absenteeism.
- School administrators and staff should review the usual absenteeism patterns at your school among both students and staff, so you can identify if the rate of absenteeism increases.
- Professors and instructors should make accommodations (e.g., extended due dates, electronic submission of assignments) for students if they become sick.
- Plan for alternative coverage by cross-training staff and faculty.
- Alert local health officials about increases in absences, particularly those that appear due to respiratory illnesses
And when it comes to those guidelines for large gatherings and events like graduations, the CDC has issued “interim guidance,” which includes avoidance of crowds if you are elderly, immune compromised, or have traveled overseas or domestically to an area where there is an outbreak.
“As the COVID-19 outbreak evolves, CDC strongly encourages event organizers and staff to prepare for the possibility of outbreaks in their communities. Creating an emergency plan for mass gatherings and large community events can help protect you and the health of your event participants and local community.”
The CDC guidance continues, “If possible, identify a space that can be used to isolate staff or participants who become ill at the event. Designate a space for staff and participants who may become sick and cannot leave the event immediately. Work with partners, such as local hospitals, to create a plan for treating staff and participants who do not live nearby. Include a plan for separating and caring for vulnerable populations.”
For more information on Coronavirus from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.