March 6, 2020

Coronavirus and Educational Institutions: Guidance for Healthcare Programs and Beyond

Holland & Knight Healthcare Blog
Nathan A. Adams IV
Healthcare Blog

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued Interim Guidance for Administrators of U.S. Institutions of Higher Education and for K-12 schools and childcare programs, asking them to collaborate and coordinate with local health departments to help prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Higher education institutions with students participating in clinical health programs and academic medical centers must exercise particular caution. For example, an employee of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, who tested positive for the virus, was one of about 100 who attended an event at the college's graduate business school before being quarantined. As another example, the Lake Washington Institute of Technology closed for disinfection after a faculty member tested positive. Faculty and students had visited a nursing home where COVID-19 cases were confirmed.

The CDC requests that educational institutions review, update and implement emergency operations plans (EOPs), in collaboration with local health departments, and share information about changes in student health center traffic and absenteeism rates while still complying with the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). According to Joint Guidance on the Application of FERPA and HIPAA, in emergencies as necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to the health or safety of the public, healthcare providers may share protected health information (PHI) and personally identifiable information (PII) without prior written consent only with persons in a position to prevent or lessen the threatened harm. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has stated that an emergency includes the outbreak of an epidemic.

The American College Health Association (ACHA) recommends that most colleges with health programs establish a student health services COVID-19 planning and response committee with a professional health sciences team leader and a working group to lead campus-wide efforts in preparing for COVID-19. ACHA has a laundry list of recommendations, including identifying or establishing a building or units on or off campus for students requiring isolation, identifying those who will enforce and monitor isolation compliance, preparing a COVID-19 event communications plan, and engaging in business and finance continuity planning.

To the extent health officials report cases of COVID-19 in the community, educational institutions will need to consider steps like school or class suspensions and event and activity cancellations, besides evaluating COVID-19 exposure risks. For purposes of Title IV federal funding compliance, ED is providing broad approval to postsecondary institutions to use online technologies to accommodate students on a temporary basis whose academic term is interrupted by COVID-19 or to take approved leaves of absence. ED is also allowing accreditors to waive various standards in these circumstances. Students recalled from travel abroad programs may also take advantage of a non-standard term. Students on federal work-study who are unable to continue working due to a disaster-affected school may continue to receive tuition. To the extent exposure reaches on-campus housing, institutions will need to take more serious measures.

For more information, please contact Holland & Knight Partner Nathan Adams.

DISCLAIMER: Please note that the situation surrounding COVID-19 is evolving and that the subject matter discussed in these publications may change on a daily basis. Please contact the author or your responsible Holland & Knight lawyer for timely advice.

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