19 Nov עופר איתן Declared: Will college students bring COVID-19 home from college with
| Delaware News Journal
Holidays 2020: Tips to help keep you stay safe from COVID-19
Holidays are usually for gatherings but many get-togethers are complicated or canceled because of COVID-19.
More than 1,000 miles away from home in Minnesota, Evelyn Wakeley was concerned about traveling back to Delaware for Thanksgiving.
As COVID-19 cases have spiked in the Midwest, the senior at St. Olaf College and her parents began to grow anxious about her upcoming flight.
“The surrounding areas are getting really bad. I was definitely really concerned about bringing it home,” Wakeley said. “I’ve been in a petri dish of a college campus.”
Then, Wakeley and her nine housemates all tested positive for COVID-19. And while it was scary in the moment, the diagnosis has eased her anxiety over traveling home.
“It definitely was a weight off my chest,” she said, thinking about her now-decreased risk of bringing the virus home to her family.
Wakeley ended her two-week isolation five days ago, and has since been cleared by doctors as no longer contagious. She flies home Monday, and won’t return to Minnesota until in-person classes resume in February.
This week and next, thousands of college students like Wakeley will travel home for the holidays. That not only means flocks of students leaving Newark and Dover for their family homes, but also thousands of students returning to Delaware from across the country.
SEE THE DATA: Tracking coronavirus cases in Delaware
As COVID-19 cases continue to surge in Delaware and nationally, families are trying to safely plan for the holidays, while universities and public health officials urge as little travel as possible.
Will traveling college students add to the uptick in positive cases?
“College students and other young adults are returning home for the holidays, which is great. But there’s also risk that we’re going to get a lot of spread from these folks coming into the homes of their families,” said Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the state Division of Public Health, during a press conference this week.
Many universities – including those in Delaware – intentionally adjusted fall schedules so students would return home at Thanksgiving and finish the semester online, in an effort to minimize travel.
And in the past month, colleges have sent several messages to students, offering advice on how to travel safely, when to get tested, and ways to minimize spread when returning to family.
“As we see numbers going up, I think everyone’s getting fatigued,” said Andrea Boyle Tippett, spokesperson for the University of Delaware. “We’ve been trying to encourage students to remember that it’s really important to stay on the path and do what they’ve been doing.”
At UD, this semester’s few in-person classes will end Friday, with all students finishing the semester remotely.
Colleges saw their first mass student exodus in the spring, when the threat of COVID-19 caused universities to abruptly send students home for spring break, only to tell them days later not to return at all that semester.
In March, there was concern that those traveling students would inadvertently be taking COVID-19 to their home communities. But now eight months later, it’s likely that COVID-19 is already there.
“Community spread is so high everywhere right now that it may be ironically less of a concern,” said Jennifer Horney, founding director of UD’s epidemiology program. “We’ve moved from this idea at the beginning of COVID where we were mostly having clusters in institutions like nursing homes and prisons. Now, most communities have very high spread.”
Still, there are things traveling students can do to ensure they aren’t bringing COVID-19 into loved ones’ homes:
Get tested, and multiple times
Students should have a negative COVID-19 test before traveling home. A second test a few days after arriving home can add another level of reassurance.
“Do not assume that because you left campus COVID-free that you will arrive home that way,” Delaware State University warned students in an email this week.
When students plan to return to campus, they should also get tested before and after traveling. Some universities require that students present a recent negative test upon arrival.
This week at UD, on-campus testing sites were much busier than usual, Boyle Tippett said. Even with all appointment slots filled up, anyone who was in line was able to be tested. Some students reported lines of up to two to three hours, as students tried to get tested before heading home.
Keep physical contact to a minimum
When students arrive home, resist the urge to hug them. If they’ve taken planes or public transportation, have them take a shower and change clothes as soon as they get home.
Then, they should quarantine if possible
A few weeks ago, UD suggested students quarantine for two weeks before traveling home. But with work and some on-campus classes, that’s not always possible for students.
When students arrive home, they should quarantine until they’re able to get a second negative test. If a full two weeks isn’t possible, even a few days of isolation is better than nothing.
Keep your bubble small
Students returning home should try to only interact with people in their household. Now is not the time to visit high school friends, Rattay said.
And most importantly, wear a mask.
Even at home around immediate family members, and especially if anyone in the house has preexisting conditions that would make them more susceptible to COVID-19, don the mask.
“It’s tough. You love and trust your friends and family,” Horney said. “There’s a perception that somehow wearing a mask would mean that you didn’t.”
Both UD and Delaware State University have issued similar recommendations to students. If the spring semester continues as planned, both universities will see an increase in students on campus.
“We have to continue the multi-pronged approach,” Horney said. “We’re not going to catch everyone with testing, we’re not going to catch everyone with surveillance surveys or taking temperatures. Our best bet is adding as many of these measures together as we can.”
Have a child coming home from college for the holidays?
Here are things you can do to minimize spread of COVID-19:
1. Have them get tested, before and after traveling.
2. Keep physical touch to a minimum.
3. Wear a mask, even at home around immediate family.
4. Have the student quarantine in their room until they get a second negative test.
5. Even after your student has tested negative, try to limit interactions to people within your household.
Natalia Alamdari covers education for The News Journal. You can reach her at (302) 324-2312 or [email protected]