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As colleges and universities prepare to bring students, faculty, and staff back for full-time, in-person learning this fall, a question still lingers over how to do so most safely. Rising vaccination rates and falling cases are of course extremely promising, but we all also recognize that the pandemic is not fully behind us quite yet.

Higher ed facilities leaders are currently making decisions for the coming 2021-2022 academic year regarding everything from cleaning frequency to HVAC ventilation, but there is another tool available to assure returning populations of the safety of their spaces: the International WELL Building Institute’s (IWBI) WELL Health-Safety Rating.

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“Every student, faculty member, staff member, and parent deserves the confidence of knowing that when they enter campus, stringent health and safety protocols built on science have been followed,” said Rachel Hodgdon, president and CEO of IWBI.

The WELL Health-Safety Rating is a safety designation backed by evidence-based solutions as well as third-party verification. Launched in July 2020, it was developed with recommendations from nearly 600 experts across the fields of public health, medicine, design, real estate, government, and academia to promote indoor safety and health across all building types.

Its application for educational environments is obvious: as safety concerns still remain for many who have not physically been on campus for over a year, higher education institutions can use this rating to demonstrate just how safe and healthy their facilities actually are and help to ease those concerns.

How WELL supports the safe return to campus

The WELL Health-Safety Rating addresses a range of acute health threats through facilities operations and management to help colleges and universities meet immediate COVID-19 needs, as well as prioritize the long-term health and safety of students, faculty, staff, visitors, and other stakeholders.

This program focuses on operational policies, maintenance protocols, and emergency plans. It includes 22 strategies for keeping spaces clean and sanitized, assessing air and water quality, developing emergency preparedness programs, promoting health services resources, and engaging and communicating with stakeholders.

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The rating provides an efficient and cost-effective solution for university leaders that guides, validates, recognizes, and scales efforts to manage critical health and safety issues in shared spaces.

“Higher ed leaders have a lot to think about right now. They are in a race to address the ongoing challenges brought on by COVID-19 before the academic year starts, and they need a turnkey, efficient, and cost-effective roadmap to address these pressing challenges holistically and comprehensively,” Hodgdon said.

Currently, there are over 335 education facilities across K12 and higher education that are enrolled in the program, including Saint Mary's University of Minnesota. The comprehensive rating system provides facilities leaders with the tools and resources they need to independently verify their buildings over the summer months so they are ready for in-person instruction at the start of the new school year.

“Because it’s built on science and ground-tested across more than two billion square feet of space, the WELL Health-Safety Rating can help higher ed leaders welcome everyone back with confidence,” Hodgdon concluded.

Nicole Rupersburg

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Nicole Rupersburg is a content and conference producer for influence group focused on education healthcare and hospitality. She also is a frequent freelance writer covering food, travel, arts, culture, and what-have-you.

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