COVID-19 and Higher Education: Frequently Asked Questions
As of 9/22/20
Minnesota colleges and universities have worked hard to create an environment that will allow students, faculty, and staff to connect with each other safely. Find answers below to frequently asked questions about COVID-19 for the campus community.
COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or exhales. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby (within about 6 feet) or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Some people without symptoms may be able to spread the virus. Public health experts are still learning about how the virus spreads and the severity of illness it causes.
More information can be found on CDC: How COVID-19 Spreads.
Students, faculty, and staff can help do their part to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by practicing social distancing (staying 6 feet from others), wearing face coverings, and washing their hands often. All measures should be used together; for example, wearing a face covering does not mean social distancing is not necessary.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough, difficulty breathing, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, chills, new severe headache, muscle pain, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive fatigue, and nasal congestion or runny nose.
Not everyone with COVID-19 has all these symptoms. Some may have very mild symptoms and some people may not have any.
Symptoms may appear from two to 14 days after being exposed to the virus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19.
You can monitor yourself for symptoms of COVID-19 using the tool or symptom checker provided by your college or university, if available. Symptom checkers are also available at:
Stay home if you are sick or have symptoms. Call your health care provider, if needed.
The virus that causes COVID-19 can affect people in different ways. Most people have mild or moderate symptoms, and many get better without seeking medical care. However, some people require hospitalization, including intensive care, and the infection can sometimes be fatal.
The virus may also lead to long-term health problems, particularly for those who develop severe illness. For instance, the disease may cause damage to the lungs, leading to ongoing trouble with breathing.
Some people are at higher risk for complications from COVID-19. For example:
- Older adults are at higher risk for severe illness.
- People of any age who have certain underlying medical conditions may have a greater risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19.
See CDC: People at Increased Risk for guidance for people who are at increased risk and should be extra careful to avoid contracting COVID-19.
For more information, see Managing Chronic Conditions during COVID-19.
- Avoid gathering in groups in social settings, including in bars, break rooms, and common areas.
- Make sure you are at least 6 feet from other people who are not members of your household at all times, even when wearing a mask.
In general, it means being within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for 15 minutes or more.
You may choose to remind the group that for everyone’s safety, they should move 6 feet apart. Be kind and considerate, not confrontational.
Avoid groups that are not following social distancing guidelines, and if on campus, consider reporting to your COVID-19 point-person or team.
As of July 25, 2020, per the Governor's Emergency Executive Order 20-81 (PDF), people in Minnesota are required to wear a face covering (often called a mask) in all indoor businesses and public indoor spaces, unless an exemption applies. The Executive Order also outlines several situations where people are permitted to remove their face covering temporarily (such as when eating or drinking, or when alone in a room or private vehicle).
Face coverings, including masks, can help stop your germs from infecting others. They may also offer some protection for the wearer.
Follow your college or university’s additional requirements about face coverings while you are on campus.
Cover your nose and mouth with a face covering and try to fit it snugly against the sides of your face.
Try not to touch the front of your face covering. Keep the mask on your face the whole time you are out. Don't put the mask around your neck or on your forehead.
If you are using a face covering made of cloth or some other reusable material, wash your face covering after each time you wear it. Cloth coverings can be machine or hand washed, and should be dried completely prior to use.
Learn more at How to Safely Wear Your Mask (PDF).
Face shields (a clear plastic barrier that covers the face) may be considered as an alternative in the following situations:
- Faculty teaching a class or giving a lecture, or for students taking a language class where the face needs to be seen. A face shield allows visibility of facial expressions and lip movements for speech perception.
- Staff and students in a class where face coverings may be a hazard due to the nature of the class (e.g., laboratory component of a class).
- Staff, students, or visitors who cannot tolerate a face covering due to a developmental, medical, or behavioral health condition.
- For staff or faculty providing direct support student services, when a face covering impedes the service being provided.
Face shields should fit such that they wrap around the sides of the wearer’s face and extend below the chin.
The following resources provide more information about face covering requirements, recommendations, and exemptions:
Following social distancing of at least 6 feet, face covering requirements, and other recommendations will reduce the risk of spread of COVID-19 during in-person classes. Individuals aren’t considered a close contact if they maintain 6 feet of social distancing from each other.
Good ventilation can also play a role in reducing the risk of spread of COVID-19 indoors.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects or surfaces including phones, computers, remote controls, and doorknobs.
Clean work area surfaces at least once a day, and more frequently if the workspace is shared.
Good hand hygiene and not touching one’s face with unwashed hands is also important to reduce any risk from frequently touched surfaces. Gloves are not necessary if good hand hygiene is being followed.
Guidance for cleaning and disinfecting in higher education can also be found at:
Close contacts are defined as someone who has been within 6 feet of a person with COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes while the person was infectious. Examples often include, but are not limited to, roommates and household members.
MDH or the COVID-19 contact at your school will contact you directly if you have been identified as a close contact. They will give you more information about how long to stay home and avoid contact with others.
If you had COVID-19 within three months of your exposure, and are identified as a close contact, you may not need to quarantine. See CDC: When You Can be Around Others Have You Had or Likely Had COVID-19.
- You must not go to campus. Notify the appropriate COVID-19 contact on campus.
- Seek help from a health care provider, if necessary, and follow your health care provider’s guidance.
- Stay away or isolate from others as much as you can within your residence.
- Do not have visitors unless they are caring for you.
- Read the CDC’s guidance on When You Can be Around Others Have You Had or Likely Had COVID-19.
- Be aware you may get called by someone from the Minnesota Department of Health or a local public health agency. It would be from a phone number that is not in your contacts. These people are called case investigators or contact tracers. When they call you, answer the call to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in your community and on campus. They will also give you more information about how long to stay home and can answer questions.
Discussions about your illness (case interview) with health department staff and/or designated campus staff are confidential. Your name will not be shared with those you came in contact with, unless you have given permission.
Isolation and quarantine help protect the public by preventing exposure to people who have or may have a contagious disease.
Isolation means separating someone who is sick with a contagious disease from people who are not sick.
Quarantine means having someone who was exposed to a contagious disease stay in one place away from others to see if they become sick.
NOTE: People who get tested after an exposure to COVID-19 do not get to be released from quarantine if the test comes back negative. It can take from two to 14 days to develop symptoms after being exposed; it also can take that long to have detectable levels of the virus to show up on a test.
If you are caring for someone with COVID-19 at home or in a non-health care setting, follow this advice to protect yourself and others.