NEW JERSEY — Nothing will be more important for New Jersey colleges and universities for the summer and fall semesters than planning. 

It may be most evident to students partaking in their school’s orientations — where they will notice a healthy dose of background on COVID-19 and what their respective institution is doing to lessen the risk of spread. 

Zakiya Smith Ellis, New Jersey's Secretary of Higher Education, said Wednesday that campuses are expected to look much different from year’s past: face masks worn by everyone, no more buffets and constant sanitization.  

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A 20-plus page set of regulations will help be provided starting today, touching on everything from communal bathroom-use to classroom size.

It will all depend on what schools can accommodate — restart plans of which must be submitted to the NJ Department of Health at least 14 days prior to staff or students returning.

On the topic of classroom sizes for instance, Ellis said a different route may need to be taken altogether.

“I think practically that means that most institutions are going to be continuing with some hybrid version of in-person and online,” Ellis said during the state’s daily press conference in Trenton. “We’re not mandating that but the practical realities of this are that it’s not going to be full capacity in any space because it’s just not realistic.”  

Today Gov. Phil Murphy will also sign an executive order, which will allow in-person clinical lab, and hands-on programming at universities and colleges starting July 1. 

Career and training schools will also be allowed to open, “subject to health and safety protocols from their respective oversight agencies,” the governor’s office tweeted following the announcement. 

Schools hoping to reopen their doors must meet a set of requirements that touch on 10 areas: instruction, housing, computer labs, libraries, research and labs, student services, transportation, dining, study abroad and athletics.

“Not only does this guidance include requirements that must be met, it also includes non-binding items for institutions to consider as part of their restart plans,” Murphy said this afternoon. “Each of these issue areas is supported by general safeguarding mandates, key precautionary measures, and a host of additional considerations to ensure that students, faculty, and staff are protected as best as possible while on campus,” the governor said.

The latest step toward the reopening of school buildings came as the state confirmed 330 additional cases of the novel coronavirus and 47 more deaths — bringing the known totals to 167,703 cases and 12,769 deaths exactly 100 days since the first death March 10.

There are now 1,352 hospitalizations with 358 patients in critical or intensive care. Of those in hospitals, figures which are slightly up from Monday, 64 are new admissions (25 in North, 22 in Central and 17 in South).

In detailing some of the guidance, Ellis said institutions will be able to teach outdoors, must keep common areas closed and can allow students to return to on-campus housing with limitations on occupancy. 

“[Colleges and universities] also have to think about prioritizing that limited housing for students for whom residential housing is necessary for them to gain the most equitable education,” Ellis said. “Throughout all stages, students and faculty with any elevated health risks must be given the opportunity to learn or teach virtually, or remotely.”

She underlined that parents and students must feel they are equipped with all the information available before returning to campus, as well as be provided with the tools necessary in the event they decide to not attend in-person sessions. 

All forthcoming guidance from the office of higher education will be subject to statewide restrictions, which may fluctuate between now and September. 

A set of requirements for private schools and pre-K to 12 will likely be available by the middle of next week, Murphy said.

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