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As universities prepare for the start of the 2021-22 school year, uncertainty abounds.The more contagious variants of COVID-19 and the increasing number of cases are Cause some institutions to turn Distance learning and compulsory vaccination and/or masking of others at the last minute. Public health guidelines are evolving rapidly, and often lack the specificity desired by complex, fragmented campuses. The previous executive order tried to control gatherings and actions to maintain public health, while the new executive order allows each of us to manage our own risks when navigating in a public environment where we cannot know who is who or who is not vaccinated. Trust in vaccines varies widely, and unfortunately, so does our trust in each other.

How should faculty and staff preparing to return to campus explain all these uncertainties? Given their responsibilities and powers for teaching, research, and other academic activities, some teachers will naturally try to solve all these problems themselves, and may develop safety measures, and then incorporate them into the syllabus or add to their syllabus. Laboratory safety rules. However, fighting this impulse and following the guidance that should be obtained from the management of the institution is almost always a better practice to ensure the safety of the campus community and avoid personal responsibility for faculty and staff.

At the beginning of the pandemic, many state and county officials issued stay-at-home orders. As these restrictions evolve over time (sometimes relaxed and sometimes more stringent), campus leaders rely heavily on the opinions of chief health officers and environmental safety directors when developing safety protocols for hands-on experience. These key management personnel and their staff are usually regarded by the regulatory agency as officials responsible for their agency.

The chief health officer worked hand in hand with state and county health officials throughout the pandemic, maintaining open channels of communication, serving together in task forces, and cooperating to provide guidance under changing circumstances. Most chief health officers have been busy making agreements for the fall. These agreements must take into account the increase in population density on campus and the arrival of people from other parts of the country and even foreign countries, whose vaccination rates and positive rates vary widely.

The Environmental Safety Supervisor helps the campus meet regulatory standards when cleaning high-touch surfaces and properly using personal protective equipment. They help faculty and staff develop safety protocols that apply to classrooms, restaurants, military band exercises, professionally equipped laboratories, and all other campus activities and spaces, with a special emphasis on public areas. Environmental safety directors are also busy helping their agencies plan to return safely in the fall, and work with the chief health officer to actively follow the latest scientific data and principles to maintain the latest health and safety procedures.

Higher education institutions have the legal responsibility to maintain a reasonable and safe environment for people to study and work in the campus community. Just as institutional leaders have wisely relied on the chief health officer, environmental safety director, and other key officials in establishing pandemic safety through the agreement to date, faculty and staff should be able to rely on the health and safety guidance provided by these responsible officials when returning in the fall . At the same time, campus leaders and responsible officials should communicate with academic leaders and teacher representatives on a regular basis to ensure that the guidance of the administrative department fully addresses the behaviors and risks that exist in classrooms, laboratories, and other academic spaces.

If someone falls ill in a classroom, laboratory, facility, or project and makes a claim for monetary damages, the agency must ensure that it maintains a reasonably safe learning and working environment. The agency’s defense will depend in part on whether it actually followed the health and safety protocols established by its responsible officials (to help ensure compliance with current best practices in their field), or with their input. If such agreements are not in place or are not complied with, it will be difficult for the agency to defend the claim.

This situation will become significantly worse if it is determined that faculty and staff ignore existing institutional health and safety measures or choose to develop their own without authorization. In this case, in addition to making the institution liable, the faculty and staff may also face legal liability and/or be subject to institutional disciplinary action for actions outside the scope of their authority. This stems from the fact that when enforcing applicable laws, judges, juries, and regulatory agencies expect institutions to rely primarily on their responsible officials to formulate and manage health and safety agreements. (This is also the case when determining whether an agency has fulfilled many other legal obligations-think about non-discrimination, responding to allegations of sexual misconduct, etc.)

After about 17 months of extensive remote work and study, campus density will soar this fall, although conditions vary widely across the country. Some institutions require vaccination, while legislation in some states prohibits many colleges and universities from compulsory vaccination or even wearing masks. In particular, as concerns about COVID-19 Delta variants increase, it is vital that the agency continues to expect its chief health officer and environmental safety director to play a leading role in formulating health and safety protocols this fall. These responsible officials are best equipped to understand local conditions, conduct appropriate risk assessments, and formulate health and safety measures to best protect the health of faculty, staff, students, and others on campus.

This fall, one size is not suitable for all colleges and universities. However, under the notice and leadership of the responsible officials, a consistent and coordinated approach to protect health and safety will greatly help protect each campus.

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