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Background: Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is transmitted predominantly through the air in crowded and unventilated indoor spaces among unvaccinated people. Universities and colleges are potential settings for its spread. Methods: An interdisciplinary team from public health, virology, and biology used narrative methods to summarise and synthesise evidence on key control measures, taking account of mode of transmission. Results: Evidence from a wide range of primary studies supports six measures.  Vaccinate (aim for > 90% coverage and make it easy to get a jab). Require masks indoors, especially in crowded settings. If everyone wears well-fitting cloth masks, source control will be high, but for maximum self-protection, respirator masks should be worn.  Masks should not be removed for speaking or singing. Space people out by physical distancing (but there is no "safe" distance because transmission risk varies with factors such as ventilation, activity levels and crowding), reducing class size (including offering blended learning), and cohorting (students remain in small groups with no cross-mixing). Clean indoor air using engineering controls-ventilation (while monitoring CO 2 levels), inbuilt filtration systems, or portable air cleaners fitted with high efficiency particulate air [HEPA] filters). Test asymptomatic staff and students using lateral flow tests, with tracing and isolating infectious cases when incidence of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is high. Support clinically vulnerable people to work remotely. There is no direct evidence to support hand sanitising, fomite controls or temperature-taking. There is evidence that freestanding plastic screens, face visors and electronic air-cleaning systems are ineffective. Conclusions: The above six evidence-based measures should be combined into a multi-faceted strategy to maximise both student safety and the continuation of in-person and online education provision. Staff and students seeking to negotiate a safe working and learning environment should collect data (e.g. CO 2 levels, room occupancy) to inform conversations.

Original publication




Journal article


Wellcome Open Res

Publication Date





SARS-CoV-2, aerosol transmission, hierarchy of controls, higher education policy, infection prevention and control