Heading Back To Campus In 2021: What Will The New Normal Look Like?

Last summer, I wrote a blog about which colleges were welcoming students to campus for the fall 2020 semester, and what Covid-19 protocols they were putting in place to keep students, faculty and staff safe. Happily, all colleges and universities intend to be open and in-person for the fall 2021 semester. Still, when students return to campus next month Covid will not have disappeared from the college landscape. Here are a few things to know about how Covid-19 continues to impact the college experience:

Vaccines Required/Not Required
Colleges and universities are taking different approaches re: requiring students to be vaccinated in order to return to campus. Rutgers University in New Jersey was the first to announce that it would require students to be vaccinated; since then, more than 580 colleges and universities have followed the Rutgers example. Other institutions, however, have decided not to require vaccinations, noting that vaccines continue to be administered under emergency use authorization. Many of the colleges and universities that are not requiring vaccinations are nonetheless encouraging students to get them. The Chronicle of Higher Education continues to update its website with information about which colleges will require students to be vaccinated in order to return to campus.

Covid-19 Testing
Many colleges and universities will continue to require surveillance Covid-19 testing. Policies vary, from those colleges that have a vaccine mandate, but will still require surveillance testing, to those that do not have a vaccine mandate but will instead rely on testing protocols to ensure campus health safety.

Some colleges, even those that are requiring students to be vaccinated, may continue to have a mask mandate in classrooms, both for vaccinated and unvaccinated students.

Colleges may require students who have any symptoms of Covid-19, or who have been in contact with someone with a confirmed case of Covid-19, to quarantine until cleared by the campus health center, regardless of their vaccine status.

Combatting Pandemic Fatigue
Seton Hall University’s Health Intervention and Communication Team noted in a July 15th update, “Better days are ahead. But they are not here yet . . . Do not let your guard down. Do not fall victim to pandemic fatigue.” This seems to be the consistent message from colleges and universities as they welcome students back to what they hope will be a “new normal” fall semester.

As students prepare to return to college next month, they should check their college website to familiarize themselves with the protocols their college has put in place for vaccinations, testing, masking and quarantining.