As universities prepare to reopen for the fall, fraternities and sororities will follow, which means there’s no time like the present to start thinking ahead when it comes to COVID-19.

As you’ll recall, social distancing helped flatten the curve of COVID-19, but university and college students were sent home to stop the spread of the virus on campuses.

So, here are a couple of questions:

Start by Checking with the CDC

As a risk management professional, I start with the experts — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The guidelines set forth by the CDC are the bar, when it comes to fighting this disease. As part of any fraternal organization’s plan, a person should be appointed to check these guidelines on a regular basis.

When a change occurs, I recommend logging the change and date for your records in case questions of liability arise down the road. Understanding the guidelines at a specific time may be an effective defense against general allegations made over a long period of time. Any changes to the guidelines impacting your procedures should be communicated clearly and adopted as soon as possible.

Focus on Hygiene

Of all the guidelines and recommendations published by the CDC, their primary message has focused on basic hygiene when it comes to prevention. Hand washing with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds is a basic skill we teach our children before they can even speak full sentences. As much as I would like to believe young adults wash their hands frequently, I know this isn’t the case.

Simple tasks are often overlooked in a crisis. So, here are some ideas on keeping this front and center:

A person wearing PPE managing risk of COVID-19 spread

Ensure Proper Sanitation Practices

Essential businesses that have remained open during shelter-in-place orders and state closures are operating under reduced hours to allow for cleaning and sanitizing to protect their patrons and employees. Student housing facilities should consider a similar practice and may need to  hire someone from the outside to accomplish this. Note, though, the costs could be enormous.

Estimates for cleaning and sanitizing are generally $0.20 to $0.50 a square foot. If a known exposure has entered the premises and decontamination is required, the costs soar to $2.00 to $4.00 a square foot.

New businesses are being created to meet this need, but not all of these companies are created equal. Worse yet, many may not be qualified.

So, how can you determine the right fit for the job?

Vendor Certification

When looking to a hire a cleaning service, the first question asked should be about the vendor’s certification. There are two benchmarks to look for — The Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) or the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC). These entities provide training and guidelines as to how to clean and sanitize safely for these types of risks.

Personal Protective Gear

Vendors should also be able to explain what kind of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) they use and, upon request, produce their Safety Data Sheet (SDS) list to ensure the products they use are on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) list N disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2. They should also clearly state the time needed before re-entry into the premises is allowed. In most cases, the duration should be short (an hour or less).

Cost Analysis

The real question here is, do you really need to hire someone to clean and sanitize on a daily basis?

If you can afford it, it may be something to consider. That cost will ultimately be passed on to the tenants. With the cost of education already taxing many students and families, increasing the cost for housing due to the virus isn’t something that tenants and their families want to face.

Alternative: Sanitation Training

There is an alternative to a cleaning service. Most chapter operations are responsible for their daily cleaning. Understanding what needs to be cleaned daily and then sanitized (following CDC guidelines), can allow our clients to work with their chapters in helping them reduce their risk of contracting COVID-19 due to a dirty surface in the facility.

GBAC and IICRC offer training. In some cases, the training is available online. Appointing an appropriate person(s) in your fraternal organization to obtain the certifications can help manage the process and promote accountability in ensuring it’s completed daily.

The approved chemicals and applications are available to private consumers. Some of the sanitizing products are applied with pump sprayers. The sanitizing solutions are generally non-corrosive, but should be tested to ensure no damage is caused to surfaces.

Having the proper training will also allow you to understand and purchase the correct PPE for those involved in the cleaning process.

One piece of advice, if you are considering this option, start placing your orders for the products now, as it will take several weeks to receive your supplies due to back orders throughout the country. If you wait until you are back in school, it will be too late!

Modify Your Fraternity and Sorority Houses

Cleaning and sanitizing is only one part of the equation. Here are a few more items to consider:

These are all items that fraternity housing operations should consider.

COVID-19 hope

Responding to a Confirmed COVID-19 Case

And of course, what happens if you have a confirmed case of COVID-19 inside your fraternity or sorority facility? Will you need to quarantine everyone? How do you isolate individuals?

Here is our suggestion…start with the CDC guidelines to determine if you can effectively comply with the requirement. If modifications are needed, how will you meet this? You should consider consulting with your host institution. Universities are already working on this plan. They may be able to help. After all, they have a vested interest in the student.

If they can’t help, then you know you will have to have a plan to address a confirmed case. If a confirmed case is identified, you may need to bring in a vendor to complete decontamination. Understanding the cost can help you prepare for this expense well in advance of the potential event.

We’ve received many questions about whether or not a house corporation has a duty to do anything. This is a question that will ultimately be tested after a case and spread within a house occurs. There is certainly no shortage of lawsuits as a result of the pandemic. Ultimately, doing the right thing comes first. Start with the basics. That may be all you can do. But, it is better than doing nothing.

Inform Students and Parents

And lastly, your tenants and their parents need to know what your response plan is long before they return to the facility.

Student housing is going to become more competitive with predictions of fewer students returning to campuses this school year. And, until a vaccine is developed, these conditions aren’t likely to be relaxed or disappear.

Parents are going to be looking for the best options available for their students that will undoubtedly include plans to keep their children safe from this virus. Housing corporations are going to need to overcome these new challenges.

The world will survive COVID-19, but the lessons learned from the pandemic are likely to stay with us well beyond this crisis. Increased attention to cleaning, hygiene, and mitigation in student housing is here to stay.

Reach Out with Questions

Whew…that was a long blog…but I’m hoping it helps all fraternity and sorority organizations start thinking about what’s ahead. In the end, we just want to make sure you’re protected. Please reach out to us with any questions. We’ve also created a section on our Resources page specific to COVID-19.