Usually, when college students make the trip home for a holiday or winter break, they look forward to catching up with family they haven’t seen in a while and reuniting with old friends. But, as we all know, this year is anything but usual.
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Instead, as the holiday 2020 season nears, many college students face a dilemma: They want to be home for the holidays, but they also don’t want to risk bringing COVID-19 home with them.
Whether students stay put on campus or come home is a personal decision that will be different for each family. If they do come home, they should do so carefully.
College students: Take extra precautions
Healthy young adults generally aren’t at high risk for getting extremely sick with COVID-19. But pulmonary and critical care specialist Joseph Khabbaza, MD, says students attending classes in person may fall into a higher risk category of being carriers and spreaders of COVID-19.
“Anyone who’s in full-time school, that’s going to be a bit higher risk,” he says. “I think part of the challenges of school-age children and young adults in college is that they tend to be the ones that are going to be minimally symptomatic if they are infected with COVID-19.”
Both the process of traveling and the coming together of separate “households” increase the risk that COVID-19 could spread. Following the steps below could help minimize the risk.
Before going home
To reduce the potential of unknowingly spreading the coronavirus, students should limit their social activities 7 to 14 days before going home.
They should also be on the lookout for any potential COVID-19 symptoms such as fever, cough or body aches. If their school offers COVID-19 testing, it’s a good idea for students to get tested a few days before they leave for break and, if they’re positive, stay put to avoid putting others at risk.
If students will be traveling through busy airports, train stations or other public places, it’s very important that they stay cautious. They should always wear a mask, stay 6 feet away from others when possible and wash their hands frequently.
Once they arrive, students who have not been able to quarantine before returning home should wear a mask indoors, especially around loved ones who are elderly or have a compromised immune system.
“That’s a tough sell to wear a mask at family gatherings, or perhaps in your own home, but it’s really an extra precaution to protect the most vulnerable,” says Dr. Khabbaza.
If possible, it’s best for students to sleep in a separate bedroom and use a separate bathroom from others once they get home. They should also avoid sharing eating utensils, dishes or glasses with other people unless they’ve been washed.
It’s also important that they continue to take the recommended precautions when they go out in public.
By making thoughtful choices, college students can help protect their loved ones and themselves this holiday season.