How to Be Transparent About COVID-19 Conditions at Your College
As vaccination rates rise, colleges are opening their campuses again and trying to attract new students, but this doesn't mean that the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Infection rates are falling, but COVID variants and SARS-CoV-2 (the coronavirus that caused the COVID-19 disease) still exist, and epidemiologists say that the virus is shifting from a pandemic to an endemic state.
This means the virus will continue to exist mostly in the background, and outbreaks may happen in different areas, particularly during the fall, at the beginning of the school year, when respiratory viruses traditionally go through an uptick.
Universities, community colleges, and other institutions of higher education need to be proactive about dealing with the lingering effects of this virus. They need to have transparency in how they report COVID-19 conditions on campus and put protocols in place to limit the spread of the virus and any variants that emerge.
This guide explains what schools should consider as they communicate essential information about COVID-19 and how they are handling the "new normal" of the COVID-19 world. Here are nine tips for building transparency into your COVID-19 plan.
1. Don't hide information
Sweeping an outbreak under the rug can seem like the right thing to do. You may be worried that an outbreak on campus will hurt your reputation and prevent people from enrolling in your college, but you should not hide information.
Try to have as much transparency as possible when talking about how the virus has affected your campus. Consumers want transparency from the businesses they patronize, and this sentiment also applies to students and their schools.
2. Learn from your mistakes
If an outbreak occurs on campus, consider publicly learning from any mistakes that may have increased transmission rates. Use the blog on your website or your social media channels to talk about what happened, then detail the changes you have implemented to make your campus safer.
3. Set up a COVID-19 dashboard on your website
To share information and increase transparency about COVID-19 on their campuses, many colleges are setting up informational dashboards on their websites. A dashboard is a very effective way to share information quickly with a lot of people.
4. Set up automatic updates for your dashboard
If you work with the right website developer, they can set up your dashboard so that it automatically gets updated as you enter new information in your database. For example, if you update the number of people who were tested in an internal database, the updates can be automatically added to your dashboard. You don't have to manually update it all the time.
5. Share key details on your dashboard
There has been some criticism about the efficacy of COVID-19 dashboards on college websites. To make sure your dashboard is as useful as possible, consider including the following details at a minimum:
- Infection rates
- Number of positive cases
- Number of COVID tests conducted
- Frequency of COVID testing
- Number of individuals in isolation
- Number of individuals in quarantine
Having transparency and being honest about the current COVID-19 situation on your website gives students, employees, and families a real sense of what's happening, and it empowers them to make informed decisions about the actions they want to take. Also, consider breaking down your numbers by students and faculty.
6. Contextualize your COVID-19 data
Don't just post isolated data on your college website. Make the data useful by contextualizing it. In particular, you should compare what's happening on your campus to what's happening in your community, your county, and your state.
You may also want to post numbers from other colleges, so your site visitors can see how your campus is faring compared to other schools.
7. Explain the terms you use
Make sure you explain the terms you use and the processes you use to collect your data. The more transparency you have, the more useful this information will be to existing and prospective students, as well as to your staff and anyone else who visits your campus.
8. Talk about surveillance testing
If you decide to engage in surveillance testing, you should also post that information on your college website, and you should explain how you're handling the processes. Typically, surveillance testing involves randomly testing a certain percentage of your students and faculty every week, and it can help to give you a sense of COVID-19 outbreaks on campus.
Surveillance testing is particularly important for keeping staff members safe — people ages 50 to 64 are four times more likely to be hospitalized than the average college student. And, if you don't have teachers, you cannot have classes.
However, you certainly don't have to do surveillance testing if you don't feel like it benefits your institution. Once vaccine rates reach 80% to 90%, surveillance testing may not be as useful, but this speculation depends on how the variants affect the situation.
9. Post updates on your social channels
In addition to keeping your website updated about what's happening with COVID-19 on your campus, it’s a good idea to post updates to your social channels.
You don't necessarily have to post every detail. You may want to keep your social channels focused on other issues and only share significant or newsworthy information about COVID-19 such as campus closures, free testing clinics, vaccination availability, or changes to protocols.
Contact KWALL for help with college website development and marketing
At KWALL, we specialize in designing websites for institutions of higher learning. We can help you optimize your website during this challenging time, and we can guide you toward the best approach for transparency around how COVID-19 is affecting your school.
To learn more, contact us at KWALL today. We can start with a site audit, and then help you create an easy-to-maintain website.