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June 21, 2020

Colleges, universities across New Jersey can resume operations through multi-stage process

Some activities at institutions of higher education can restart next month amid COVID-19 pandemic

Higher Education Coronavirus
New Jersey colleges universities Element5 Digital/via Unsplash

Social distancing and face coverings will become part of the new normal at colleges and universities across New Jersey amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Institutions of higher education across New Jersey will be required to undergo a three-step reopening process in order to restart activities on campus amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Office of the Secretary of Higher Education released health and safety guidance this week for how colleges and universities across the state can resume operations following the coronavirus outbreak.

The three-stage plan focuses on 10 on-campus areas: instruction, residential housing, computer labs, libraries, research, student services, transportation, dining, international travel, and athletics.

During each phase, schools must implement social distancing protocols and remain six feet apart, continuously sanitize and disinfect all equipment and materials, and accommodate individuals who have symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19.

All faculty, staff, students, and visitors must wear face coverings, and all schools must adhere to the state’s COVID-19 restrictions until a “new normal” is reached when a coronavirus vaccine becomes available.

Colleges and universities will be able to move into each phase based upon the capacity of the state’s COVID-19 testing and contact tracing programs. Institutions are required to implement testing protocols on campus for students and employees, and they should work with local health departments to develop such plans.

All in-person instruction, such as labs, clinical rotations, and all other curricular activity is banned. No students are allowed in dormitories, except for those enrolled in programs who have received prior approval. Computer labs and libraries remain closed, and in-person is prohibited. Only grab-and-go or delivery dining is available to those living on campus.

Colleges and universities can move into the second reopening phase on July 1. While most in-person instruction remains limited, clinical rotations, labs, and hands-on instruction can resume next month. Institutions of higher education are required to submit a restart plan to the OSHE no later than two weeks before operations resume.

A limited number of students are permitted to return to the residence halls, but full capacity cannot be reached. Students with the greatest need for housing should be prioritized, and schools must reduce the density of living spaces in dorms. Common areas must remain closed. Outside visitors must be limited to those completing delivery trips, maintenance, or emergencies.

Schools are also required to have a designated place on campus for individuals to quarantine and isolate after exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms or having tested positive for the virus.

Computer labs must remain closed, but libraries can reopen with limited occupancy. Curbside pickup or delivery of remotely-requested printed materials can take place.

Outdoor dining can take place, as long as capacity is limited and social distancing is practiced.

When the state moves into the third and final phase of its reopening plan following the coronavirus crisis, most in-person classroom instruction, labs, and other school activity are permitted with capacity limits in place.

Dorms can continue to operate with reduced capacity, but common areas can reopen if social distancing is adhered to and capacity is limited.

Computer labs can open in limited fashion, and indoor in-person dining can resume with limited capacity too.

“An equitable restart of operations must be done carefully through an iterative, staged process that balances the desire to move forward with concerns for public health,” said Dr. Zakiya Smith Ellis, who serves as the Secretary of Higher Education. 

“We know many students prefer learning in-person, particularly those who experience hardship and whose home environments are not conducive to online education. As we seek to ensure appropriate measures are in place so educational activity can continue, the health and safety of the entire campus community will remain our priority.”

Colleges and universities across New Jersey have been closed for in-person classes and activity since March 18 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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