How Should Universities Prepare to Open For Post-Covid?

How Should Universities Prepare to Open For Post-Covid?

College and university campuses are quiet these days due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The faculty, staff, and students of schools across the country are staying indoors to learn and teach online using video conferencing platforms. Meanwhile, the cost of the pandemic is putting huge dents in the budgets of institutes of higher learning.

How do colleges and universities prepare to reopen? How can they safely handle outbreaks like coronavirus while continuing to teach? 

How can technology companies like Kontakt.io, which specialize in streamlining location services, help with these plans to safely reopen college and university campuses?


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Why It’s Vital That Colleges and Universities Reopen Soon

Aside from the pervasive threat to human health, the Covid-19 pandemic also poses a very real financial threat to colleges and universities across the nation. As a result of the pandemic, the number of returning students will decrease for various reasons the longer campuses remain closed. College and university administrators realize that students who can’t return to campus in the fall may either postpone their education or drop out entirely.

That, in turn, poses a problem for the institutions themselves. Most colleges and universities are on the semester system and collect tuition twice a year at the beginning of the two primary semesters, fall and spring. Most of them depend on tuition money. Losing the fall semester means losing half a year’s income. Even those institutions that were financially stable before the pandemic would experience major problems.

Since higher education institutions are a large employer in the U.S., there’s also an impact on the national economy if students can’t return to campus this fall. According to the New York Times, Data collected about the 2017-2018 school year showed that as many as three million people worked in higher education. Such employment is stable and helps sustain the communities around the schools. Over $600 billion in spending from higher education went into the national gross domestic product. 

Economic impact aside, our schools allow us to educate future generations and enable them to become productive contributors to society.

Since reopening our colleges and universities is vital for many reasons, it has to be carefully yet quickly planned. Such plans need to be crafted around basic methods of infection containment and mitigation. Even if there’s success in flattening the curve, until a vaccine is ready and proven to be effective, realistic plans that account for additional waves or hotspot outbreaks have to be carefully developed. Moving forward, schools can’t really close everything down and send everyone home again each time we experience a similar outbreak.

Plans to Reopen Colleges and Universities

Opening our colleges and universities by the fall is within the realm of possibility.  Since it’s not the first widespread viral outbreak we’ve experienced, we do have some proven health protocols to help us control infectious diseases. However, there are some new technologies we didn’t have before that could greatly help schools in managing the spread of disease on campus.

Plans to reopen schools will be crafted around three components: testing, tracing, and separation. 

There will be a lot of changes to how campuses normally operate. Shared living and study places aren’t really suitable venues for social distancing. Many social functions will have to be reconsidered, including the normal parties that take place on campus.

Most students living on or immediately around campus who become infected with the virus will experience mild symptoms if any at all. Some with certain health factors risk serious illness. The chances for exposure in such an environment are high for students, staff, faculty, and the community at large.

Testing

The plan to reopen won’t work if schools don’t have a way to rapidly test all students for coronavirus when they first arrive on campus. Testing should also be conducted at scheduled times throughout the year. Given the high number of those who are reportedly asymptomatic, just testing those who are displaying symptoms won’t be effective in managing infection risk. 

Contact and Location Tracing

In the past, contact tracing was pretty hit or miss. When you have a campus with thousands of people, a student may not know who they were sitting next to in class or who exactly was at an event they attended. Thanks to the advanced technology we have today, we have a better solution with digital tracing. Technology companies can help trace the spread of diseases like coronavirus, enabling colleges and universities to share their data with local and state health departments for the benefit of everyone.

Using smart badges to enhance standard student ID cards, universities can gain and maintain valuable insights into the daily flow of their faculty, staff, and students. The systems can be established quickly and very affordably. Universities can leverage their existing infrastructures to efficiently add location-based solutions. And if your institution doesn’t have a current infrastructure in place, Kontakt.io can set you up with affordable BLE and WiFi-enabled gateways. As an added bonus, Kontakt.io is already integrated with the top WiFi providers like Cisco, Cisco Meraki, Juniper, Ruckus Networks, Mist Systems and more. The solution you need to help you safely reopen your campus is ready to implement and economical.

Separation

Once you’ve utilized testing and tracing, the infected students or others have to be separated from the rest of the population. Shared living spaces like dorms can’t be used for this. Special accommodations for isolation and quarantine will be necessary for the school to offer. Enforcing quarantine policies will be important too.

Technology to Track the Coronavirus

Top companies like Apple and Google have already thrown their hat into the ring by announcing that they would develop contact tracing systems intended to keep the spread of coronavirus down by tracking those who have been exposed to infected people. According to The Verge, many consider it to be ambitious.

Yet several companies who already specialize in location insights, like Kontakt.io, already have systems in place to help accomplish this. Using BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) radio technology at the system’s heart, location tracking can be easily established on most college and university campuses. 

A low power derivative of standard Bluetooth technology, BLE uses less power than a normal Bluetooth connection. It uses shorter bursts to make connections instead of being constantly connected. The choice of technology makes sense. Most smartphones on the market today support Bluetooth technology. BLE also offers incredible flexibility with low power usage so it’s not a constant drain on battery life.  

BLE’s proximity profile is the key to making it effective to use here. At its heart, the proximity profile is what Bluetooth depends on to locate devices, and for the purpose of tracking. The RSSI value, a measurement of how much power is received from a Bluetooth signal, helps approximate the distance. It helps the Bluetooth connect to your specific phone when it’s in range as opposed to any number of other similar phones using Bluetooth technology.

Smart badges, like those used by Kontakt.io, work together well with this technology when given to those on a college or university campus for tracking purposes. The campus WiFi infrastructure would need to be BLE-enabled which Kontakt.io also assists with. For those with WiFi infrastructures that are BLE-enabled already, establishing location services on campus to help them control and mitigate coronavirus infection is easier still.  

Other Ways Location Services Can Help During the Coronavirus Pandemic

There are a lot of useful applications that location services can be used for during an instance like the coronavirus pandemic. 

Social Distancing Enforcement

Thanks to real-time tracking and BLE-enabled badges, you can be alerted when people congregate in groups that exceed the allowable limit. The technology can also be used to notify you when people are not the required distance away from each other. Also, when the technology is used for smart buildings, the badges can also be programmed to deny access to areas of buildings where people commonly gather to eliminate those risks.

No-Touch Access

There are a lot of access points on a college campus our hands touch, like door handles, keypads, and more. Since Covid-19 remains a threat on various surfaces, able to stay alive for hours, a method of reducing the risk of mass infection from such contact would be highly useful. 

With Kontakt.io badges and automatic doors, you could have a system in place where the person’s badge is recognized and the door opens for them to walk through without touching anything. No-touch access can also be established by Kontakt.io using smartphone-based systems as well. Many processes can be automated, like building entry or making payments to reduce the need for person-to-person contact.

Item Tracking

Infection control includes any packages you get from other places. College campuses get thousands of deliveries every day from parcels to students from home to supplies from hundreds of vendors. The virus can live on surfaces for hours and you don’t know who touched a given package when. The same thing goes for equipment or anything other object or asset being introduced to the campus.

Tracking these items can help you locate them and make sure they are properly sanitized. You can also use this technology to keep items from being loaned out or shared to prevent infection. 

Reducing Visits to Campus

There are often a lot of visitors to college campuses, particularly for those students who live locally. With the use of BLE technology, the time a visitor spends on campus can be minimized. To help them shorten their visit, they can get directions to their intended location, get assistance without direct contact with another person, and more. They can be directed away from isolation or quarantine areas to keep them safe. The technology can be used to find the party on campus they are there to visit so they can arrange a quick meeting in a common area. 

Not only does this help reduce the risk of infection for the visitor and those on campus, but it also makes the visitor’s experience much easier.

In the weeks to come when quarantine restrictions ease and schools resume operations with mitigation measures in place, tracking systems like those offered by Kontakt.io can do much to help in efforts to track Covid-19 infections and help reduce the spread of the virus. Systems using Bluetooth technology work with existing WiFi infrastructures and are low cost. They are also easy to scale up if needed in the future.

If your college or university could benefit from BLE-enabled badges or location tracking, contact Kontakt.io today.

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Aneta Ciurkot - Photo
  • Aneta Ciurkot
  • Director of Product Marketing

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[Updated for 2020]
[Updated for 2020]