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Tufts Public Health

Higher Education’s Role in Fighting the Coronavirus

“We urgently need the capacity to isolate potential cases away from their families soon after diagnosis in order to slow the spread and protect families and communities,” writes Anthony Monaco. Here, Miller Hall at Tufts. Photo: Alonso Nichols
Wednesday, March 18, 2020

By Anthony P. Monaco

The quickly expanding COVID-19 outbreak in the United States is soon expected to outstrip the capacity of our hospitals, as in Italy, where they have resorted to makeshift tents, hallways, and parking lots. When this happens, colleges and universities must take a leadership role in relieving this unprecedented stress on our health care system.

Most colleges and universities have sent students home in order to “de-densify” their campuses and reduce the potential for community spread. As a result, universities currently have a surplus of residential capacity with well-developed infrastructure—Wi-Fi and IT networks, dining services, and the ability to zone off residential areas for different purposes. These campuses are well situated to relieve stress on local hospitals as they reach peak capacity due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Recently, a Tufts University undergraduate who had tested positive for COVID-19 unintentionally exposed other individuals to the virus, all of whom have been tracked and asked to self-isolate. From our experience responding to this need for students to self-quarantine and working with our affiliated hospital, Tufts Medical Center, I have identified five actions that colleges and universities with significant residential capacity should take now to help our communities.

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