As colleges eye fall semester, reopening safely hinges on risk reduction and preparation

Date: Jun 03 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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 As the nation’s colleges and universities move to reopen in the fall, they should embrace their local communities’ regulations to safely protect against COVID-19 and have plans in place to prevent a campus-wide outbreak, says Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association. 

“All institutions should be working from the premise that they will have a case of COVID-19 on campus during the academic year,” Benjamin said in testimony prepared for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee. Three presidents of U.S. colleges and universities who are slated to discuss their fall semester reopening plans will join Benjamin to testify at a committee hearing, which will be livestreamed, beginning Thursday, June 4, at 10 a.m. ET.

In his prepared testimony, Benjamin emphasized the importance of following CDC guidelines and that a reopening of colleges and universities “will not come with a one-size-fits-all solution, and any decisions must be science-based, data-driven and done in close consultation with state and local public health authorities.” 

He also recommended college and university officials prioritize health equity considerations when developing risk reduction plans. COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on some populations, including African Americans and Hispanics.  Also, low-income students who may rely on a range of services provided by their colleges and universities may be disproportionately impacted by a potential COVID-19 outbreak on campus.

Benjamin is calling for increased federal funding for core public health infrastructure capacity for federal, state, local, tribal and territorial public health agencies and for measures to build and sustain the nation’s state and local public health workforce.

Benjamin, who has led APHA as executive director since 2002, is a former secretary of health for the state of Maryland and is regularly sought for his expertise on health matters impacting the nation, particularly during the ongoing coronavirus crisis. During his career, Benjamin has been a leader in the response to many public health emergencies, including the 2001 anthrax letter attacks, the 2003 SARS outbreak and the growing health threats of climate change.

Other experts expected to testify before the committee:

  • Mitchell Daniels, president of Purdue University;
  • Christina Paxson, MD, president of Brown University; and
  • Logan Hampton, MD, president of Lane College.

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