On May 22, 2020, the Massachusetts Higher Education Working Group (which includes college and university presidents from 14 Massachusetts institutions) submitted to Governor Baker’s Reopening Advisory Board a set of recommendations for reopening colleges and universities in the Commonwealth. These recommendations aim to provide a framework that would allow colleges and universities to safely reopen, taking into account the unique considerations that colleges and universities face and the fact that there will be no “one size fits all” approach given the diversity of colleges and universities in Massachusetts.
The Working Group’s recommended framework has four major phases.
The Working Group also recommended five ways in which the Commonwealth could assist the higher education community in these reopening efforts:
1. The Governor should call upon colleges and universities to develop their own reopening plans, including plans for a phased repopulation, and monitoring and potential containment plans.
2. The Commonwealth should assist with procuring testing, PPE, and cleaning supplies for colleges and universities, as well as providing “technical assistance” for the implementation of contact tracing.
3. The Commonwealth should continue to require Massachusetts insurers to cover the costs of COVID-19 testing that are not paid by the federal government.
4. The Commonwealth should continue to coordinate with licensing and regulatory agencies to enable ongoing professional licensure and certification.
5. The Commonwealth should “provide a safe harbor from liability” for institutions that “prepare comprehensive reopening plans.”
The Working Group also summarized its survey of college and university presidents in Massachusetts. Overall, the respondents were confident that they could create and implement safety mechanisms and protocols by the fall of 2020, and effectively provide for isolation, quarantine, and the “de-densifying” of classrooms and living spaces. However, the respondents were less confident in their ability to implement contact tracing and screening/testing protocols for all students, faculty, and staff.