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    Responding to the Measles Outbreak

    giving patient a shot

    To date, the 2019 measles outbreak infected at least 500 people in 20 states, including students at schools and colleges. If measles continue to spread at the same rate, more cases will be reported in the U.S. this year than any year since its declared elimination in 2000. Due to the high rates of infection and low inoculation rates, more localities and schools are mandating vaccinations and eliminating exemptions.

    Measles is a contagious airborne virus whose symptoms include fever, cough, white spots on the inside of the mouth, and a rash. The virus can live for up to two hours after it is expelled into the air. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 90 percent of the nonimmune people close to an infected person will contract measles. The rising number of cases compel educational institutions to plan for a possible measles outbreak.


    Maintaining high vaccination coverage is the best protection against disease—including measles. Many schools and colleges require students to receive MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccinations prior to matriculation. Policies at The Roeper School, Columbia University, and the University of Arizona, for example, require all incoming students to show proof of vaccinations. Work with your campus health advisors and legal counsel to create or update your immunization policy.

    Crisis Planning

    A measles outbreak on your campus may require you to implement your crisis response plan. Review, update, and test the plan now to make sure you’re prepared. The plan should:

    • Name a response team with personnel from health services, housing, security, communications, food services, academic affairs, and legal counsel
    • Define team member roles and responsibilities for preparedness, response, and recovery
    • Establish clear lines of authority within and between departments
    • Identify backup personnel, including external resources with specific expertise such as public relations firms and legal counsel
    • Incorporate a flexible sick leave policy for faculty, staff, and students
    • Establish guidelines for determining when closing programs or the campus is appropriate
    • Establish how to maintain essential operations if programs shut down

    To prepare for managing a crisis, take United Educators’ Crisis Response Learning Program and practice your response through the flu outbreak simulation.


    A Guide to Creating and Improving a Campus Crisis Communications Plan

    CDC Measles Cases and Outbreaks

    Department of Education Measles Fact Sheet

    By Melanie Bennett, JD, assistant risk analyst